I’m feeling more like story mode than analysis mode today. Maybe it’s the spring or soon-to-be-summer air. Or, maybe it was the feeling of old times down in Chester, Saturday night. When I pulled into Lot C at Talen Energy Stadium around 6pm the lot was basically full. That’s ninety minutes before first kick. Just waiting to park, I could feel a familiar energy but one that had been absent for a while. The New York Red Bulls were in town, and although they were missing a few key starters, they had been playing as well as any club in MLS lately, and were slowly creeping back up the ladder in the Eastern Conference. And when I thought about it, this could have been the most the Union had ever been ahead of the Red Bulls at this point in the season since the club’s inception. Just a guess but pretty close.
Anyway, I couldn’t find a parking spot so I did something I had never done before. I asked a tailgate to give up part of their area to accommodate my car. This was a great group of people, they saw me gesture, knew my mini would take up only a small spot, and waved me in immediately. It was going to be a bonding night for Union fans. I felt this, the fans felt this, and the only thing to take care of now was business on the field.
There was one big surprise and one not-so-much a surprise in the Union 18 for this match. Goalkeeper, Andre Blake, who just shut out the U.S. Men’s National Team only three days earlier, was back in the starting lineup for coach, Jim Curtin. I have to believe if the Union weren’t playing a highly competitive Eastern Conference foe, Blake might have sat this one out. But hey, no one was complaining.
The not-so-big surprise was midfielder, Marco Fabián, not starting and not even available as a sub. He has basically become Maidana/Noguiera 2.0 and can’t play more than a game or two in a row without getting injured. It sucks and the club was counting on him for so much more, but this version of him is looking like what they bought for the rest of 2019. The club exercising it’s option on him for 2020 and 2021 is looking less likely as the season pushes forward.
The story for the Union in the first half was timing being off and miscommunication on offense. In the 9th minute, Sergio Santos had one cross that was unsuccessful. After battling the Red Bulls to retain possession, Santos delivered a better cross straight through the box in front of Red Bulls goalkeeper, Luis Robles, but no Union players made a run towards the ball. In the 12th minute, Brenden Aaronson gave Kacper Przybylko a great opportunity but his header sailed over the net. In the 19th min Union captain, Alejandro Bedoya makes great pass from midfield to a streaking Santos, who then went one-on -one with a defender but his shot hit the top of post, before sailing into the bleachers. Sensing a trend here?
The next scoring chance would be converted but this would be by the Red Bulls, and by “fan favorite” Kaku. Right back, Kyle Duncan received a pass down in the right corner on the Union side of the field. Kai Wagner was late getting over and gave him lots of room to operate. Duncan took his time and found Kaku in front of the net for the first goal of the match. Wagner gambled on an earlier play as well and got lucky. Blake was clearly not happy with Wagner, gesturing towards the left back after the goal. No one on the Union side tracked Kaku down the field so it was a forgettable play all around.
It would get much worse for the Union just before the half. In the 42nd minute, just after Jack Elliot demonstrated great one-on-one defending on Red Bulls forward, Brian White, it would be White again but this time scoring the 2nd goal for New York. Neither Elliot, Auston Trusty, or Blake fully committed to White, and he chipped a ball over Blake’s head. Blake, Elliot and Trusty were all left turning around, watching the ball slowly bounce into the net. It was easily the worst goal the Union had surrendered all season.
The second half began much like the 1st half. Indecision for the Union on offense. During one exchange, Bedoya and Przybylko passed the ball back and forth between the two of them three times. The body language for both said, “no you do something with it, no you do something.” Things just weren’t clicking. Particularly off was Brenden Aaronson. Perhaps it was academy graduation jitters. Regardless, it wasn’t working Saturday night so Curtin made an early 53rd minute sub for Aaronson. In came Ilsinho and the match from that point on became his.
Ilsinho took on two defenders with step-overs and classic Ilsinho trickery, drew a third defender, and found Jamiro Monteiro for the easy score. Just one minute later, Ilsinho split two defenders and nutmegged a third for his second goal in two minutes. It was just as pretty as the assist a minute prior.
A few minutes later, the Union defense was again slow to react and Blake had to take out a Red Bull player himself. A second later and he could have been carded. In the 70th minute, after Bedoya forced the Red Bulls into a hand ball after some hard work in the box, Monteiro lined up to take the penalty. Robles made the save, the ball was deflected back to Ilsinho and he sent the ball into the “’ole onion bag” for the 3-2 lead and eventual game-winner. The Union had a lot of difficulty clearing the ball out of their own end for the next ten minutes but were able to hold on.
A Few Observations
- Przybylko looked off all night. Indecisive to say the least. Hopefully he’ll bounce back after the international break.
- Wagner has been slow to close out on his man lately, especially Saturday night.
- Once Fafa Picault entered the match, the combination of he and Monteiro caused havoc for the Red Bulls. I’d consider giving him a few starts again after the break.
- Ilsinho was simply incredible. I can’t recall the last time a Union player took over a match like he did off the bench.
Finally, I asked Jim Curtin in his post-match press conference if there is something about this team compared to those of the past that is different, as far as their attitude when finding themselves in difficult situations. He said the Union have always played well at home and he knows old demons won’t be exorcised until they win a home playoff match. Only a few months to go (my words, not his)…
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images & Derik Hamilton – USA Today Sports