The Philadelphia Union hosted the best team in MLS’ Eastern Conference in hopes of challenging for the second-seed to finish off the best season in franchise history. Instead, a star player limped off during pre-game warm-ups and NYCFC tallied two goals in the opening 25 minutes ultimately ending in NYCFC’s favor 2-1.
Before the match even started, Philadelphia was on the receiving end of some bitter news. The team-leader in goals scored, Kacper Przybylko, reportedly injured his left foot during routine pre-game warm-ups which forced Union Head Coach Jim Curtin to shuffle his lineup card moments before kickoff.
Przybylko was on the verge of tying former Union striker CJ Sapong for the franchise record for goals scored in a single season. With 15 goals on the year, Przybylko could’ve capped it off wonderfully. But fate had other ideas.
On the night, many left wondering what could’ve been. If Przybylko had been in the lineup would Philadelphia press better? Would he finish chances that Andrew Wooten missed? Those answers are unclear.
One thing is certain, Philadelphia were outplayed from the opening whistle Sunday.
NYCFC began the scoring in the 7th minute when Ronald Matarrita beat Andre Blake from inside the box. Matarrita, was a last-minute addition to NYCFC’s starting XI. But from his play all match, you couldn’t tell.
Matarrita and Ben Sweat combined beautifully along the left wing to create the goal. Union right back Ray Gaddis made an ill-advised run forward to try and disrupt play but his run was far too aggressive which left flank exposed.
Sweat fielded a ball in that open space and found Matarrita inside the box for a calm and collected finish. Less than 15 minutes later, NYCFC struck once more all but shutting the lights out on any Union fans hopes of competing early on.
The second goal from NYCFC was not the result of great skill or quick thinking to take advantage of a defensive mistake. Instead, the goal was born out of sheer luck. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi tried to loft a cross into the box but Union midfielder Jamiro Monteiro canceled the idea by heading the effort. The ball ricocheted off his head and over the outstretched arms of Blake.
Before the 25-minute mark, Philadelphia was staring up from the bottom of a sizable hole.
The Union managed to create a handful of half-chances for themselves but never managed to truly threaten before halftime. One chance, in particular, could’ve turned the match upside down.
The 28th minute granted Philadelphia a free-kick opportunity which ended in a failed header from Wooten. Wooten had a free header from six-yards out but couldn’t beat Johnson on the goal line. Perhaps Przybylko would’ve buried it.
Halftime came with sweet relief considering Philadelphia struggled mightily in possession. The passing accuracy as a group was just over 80% and at times NYCFC managed to keep Philadelphia on their heels – causing total chaos at times with their high-tempo play.
Philadelphia managed to tighten up defensively in the second half. They held NYCFC scoreless while tacking on a goal for themselves late.
Marco Fabian entered for Ilsinho at the hour-mark. Fabian, despite not making the impacts many expected him to, tallied a goal in the 87th minute after a handball in the penalty area created a penalty kick chance.
Before Fabian’s goal, Brenden Aaronson missed a golden chance. He made effective off-ball runs all match but his finishing left a lot to be desired. In the 64th minute, he managed to fund space behind NYCFC’s backline and Haris Medunjanin slotted a perfect pass onto his feet. With a hurried touch, Aaronson sent his shot over the bar.
Moments like Aaronson’s near-miss and Wooten’s blown header cost Philadelphia some effective chances at pushing back. For now, Curtin and his crew will hope to shake off their rust of late with the playoffs just around the corner.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @MMcClain_PSN
Philadelphia Union writer.