The Union came into Sunday’s Decision Day match-up with New York City FC needing some help to capture second place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. A win and an Atlanta FC loss or tie, or a Union tie and Atlanta loss would lock up second place for the boys in blue. It wasn’t to be as the Union fell to NYCFC 2-1 and for good measure, Atlanta FC took care of New England 3-1.
Taking some steam out of yesterday’s match was the Union getting shut-out 2-0 at the Columbus Crew last week. Although Columbus has been playing well as of late, they still finished the season tied for the fourth-worst point total in MLS. That was a must-win for the Union and they looked sluggish and out of sync. A Union win would have meant Sunday’s night’s clash with NYCFC would have been for first place and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. So looking at the past few weeks, both must-wins for the Union, they lost to two clubs that had nothing to play for – Columbus who was ready to clean out their lockers and NYC, who had locked up their first-round-bye and had no chance of catching LAFC for home-field advantage throughout.
How should we feel about these last few weeks? Columbus was simply a horrible performance and the game-tape should be burned if it hasn’t yet. The Union played an aggressive second half against NYC but put themselves in a position in which they had no choice. Yes, the Union began the match shorthanded but so did their opponent. Striker Kacper Przybylko was scratched from the lineup with a foot injury, but NYC also lost their star striker, Heber. For the majority of the afternoon, they were outplayed. Granted, the second NYC goal was a fluke, struck by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 22nd minute. The ball deflected off a Union defender who was just inside the18 yard box and floated over Andre Blake’s outstretched arm.
This could have been shaken off a bit if it were not for the constant turnovers by the Union in the first half. The Union had their opportunities but digging themselves a 2-0 deficit against a club with a +20 goal-differential on the season was too much to overcome. Even after closing the gap to 2-1 after a converted Marco Fabián penalty, Atlanta had their win wrapped up as well as second place.
I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter that Curtin should have let Ray Gaddis, who hasn’t scored a goal in his eight-year MLS career, take that penalty since the score was inconsequential at that point. But I get Curtin’s thinking. Marco Fabián’s season has been sporadic, with fewer peaks than valleys. If Fabián had a chance to see the ball go into the back of the net, Curtin had to oblige. Fabián’s scoring confidence going into the playoffs is more important to the club than Gaddis’.
Alas, the Union would have to settle for third. Don’t get me wrong. It has so far been the best Union season-to-date, but first place was theirs, as was second place, and now they will enter the playoffs in third.
It’s time to regroup and look ahead. Przybylko seemed to be walking ok after the match so hopefully, his foot injury is just a tweak and will be back after a few days rest. Curtin said they will run some tests Monday and go from there. All indications are that captain, Alejandro Bedoya, will be ready to go as well. Andrew Wooten, who was originally slated to play on the wing Sunday night, had to move up top as the sole striker after Przybylko came up lame. Wooten looked a few steps slow in the second half but looked more confident for the majority of the second half. It’s to-be-determined if Sergio Santos is going to be healthy come playoff time. Coach Curtin must decide if only Santos, only Wooten, or both, will be selected for the game-day 18. Push-comes-to-shove you have to go with Santos if you’re only going with one. He’s easily been more productive these past few months.
What’s next? The sixth-place New York Red Bulls will be at Talen Energy Stadium on October 20th. Less than a month ago, they dominated the Union in a shutout at Red Bull Arena. The Union beat them in Chester earlier this summer and needed the heroic of all heroic performances from Ilsinho in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory. The Red Bulls have to be kicking themselves after this weekend as well. A win would have moved them as high as fourth place and rather than being on the road in round one, they would be home. So it will be two clubs, familiar with each other, the talent on both sides of the ball, and both playing with chips on their shoulders knowing they didn’t take advantage of their late-season opportunities. The story will get better for only one of them on October 20th, after 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, or penalties. Welcome to the post-season!
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Mikey – For Medianews Group