The rain and the absence of Kacper Przybylko from the matchday 18 for the Philadelphia Union hampered the excitement surrounding the first home playoff game for Philadelphia since 2011. Early goals from New York Red Bulls further dampened the mood, but Philadelphia never quit and found a way to win in extra time 4-3.
The New York Red Bulls entered Chester as prideful underdogs and they immediately began fulfilling their role as spoilers when they scored an early goal in the 6th minute of action.
New York thrives on creating chaos in the opening 15 minutes of action and Philadelphia fell victim to their high press. Unable to move the ball out from their own end, Philadelphia’s back line suffered. They played too many errant passes and eventually, New York capitalized.
Josh Sims, New York’s newest DP signing, tallied the opening goal of the match thanks to assists from Alejandro Romero Gamarra and Marc Rzatkowski. Union center back Jack Elliott forced a pass up the right-wing and it was intercepted. Sims found the ball atop the box, moved toward his right, and released a hard-hit shot. Andre Blake was there but failed to parry the attempt wide of net.
New York were up early and the crowd began to die a bit.
Just 18 minutes later, New York would tally again. This time Tim Parker scored off assists from Daniel Royer and Gamarra (his second). Parker found himself in the right spot at the right time after Blake failed to get to the corner attempt. Blake immediately broke off his line to try and parry the cross but was overeager, ultimately flailing at the ball as it landed at the feet of Parker for an easy goal.
Less than a half an hour into the most important match in Philadelphia’s history, they were down 2-0.
In steps team captain Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya managed to get one back for Philadelphia in the 30th minute after Haris Medunjanin whipped a free kick over the head of Union forward Andrew Wooten. Bedoya stayed put on his far post run and luckily the ball made it to his feet. On a half-volley, Bedoya buried it.
It seemed as if Philadelphia would escape the first half in suitable shape, trailing 2-1. Instead, New York found the back of the net moments before the half time whistle.
Four minutes into first-half stoppage time, Blake collided with center back Mark McKenzie in the air while attempting to parry away a free-kick chance from New York. Blake never made any contact on the ball and it landed for Red Bulls forward Tom Barlow who finished the chance.
Philadelphia entered the locker room down 3-1 at half and were only 45 minutes away from seeing the best season in their history disappear as if it were simply a meaningless mirage.
But fate would tell a different story for the tortured Union fan base.
Elliott began flipping the script with a goal in the 52nd minute. His header ultimately swung the crucial momentum in Philadelphia’s favor. Elliott headed home the chance after it deflected off the crossbar following a Sergio Santos header.
The goal was the second from a free kick for Philadelphia.
After the hour mark, Curtin decided to swap Wooten for Ilsinho and then yanked Brenden Aaronson for Fafa Picault in the 72nd minute. The two substitutions would prove pivotal for Curtin.
Ilsinho forced New York to pull two and three defenders at a time over to the right side of the field where Ilsinho lurked. This freed space centrally for Philadelphia to exploit.
Picault’s headed goal in the 78th minute was the result of the offensive pressure Ilsinho helped create. Picault, eager to make impacts in a big game, scored the equalizer in the 78th minute thanks to an assist from Santos.
Talen Energy Stadium erupted and Philadelphia would find a way to get to extra time tied 3-3.
After a brief yet much-needed break in the action, both teams returned to the field for the start of extra time. The rain never yielding, players and fans alike embraced the moment.
The first half of extra time began with two incredible saves from Red Bull keeper Luis Robles. First, he denied Fafa from close range – a true reaction save that could be a save of the year nominee. The other denied Kai Wagner from distance, a save requiring Robles to dive to his left to parry the shot away.
The two close calls helped Philadelphia establish themselves early on and as a result placed New York on their heels.
Then in the 103rd minute, Curtin decided to grant Marco Fabian a chance to prove his worth. He took Santos off for Fabian and just two minutes later, Fabian changed the game.
He chipped a shot toward goal that deflected of a Red Bulls cleat and went up and over Robles into the back of the net. It wasn’t pretty but it was all Philadelphia needed to gain the lead and never look back.
The whistle for the end of the first segment of extra time blew moments later. Union fans were just fifteen minutes away from sweet relief.
New York struggled to find any rhythm in the second half of extra time. Much credit is owed to Philadelphia’s midfield duo of Bedoya and Medunjanin. When times were tough for Philadelphia, especially in extra time, the midfield was controlled by Philadelphia.
Bedoya would be subbed for Warren Creavalle in the 112th minute after his right quad injury forced him to limp off the field. His efforts today were crucial and should not be forgotten. Without his leadership on the pitch and in the locker room at halftime is unmatched.
Three minutes later, the final whistle blew and Philadelphia were finally on the positive end of a playoff contest. After 10 seasons, the Union have won that coveted playoff game. They avoided wasting such a monumental season in terms of points, wins, and goals scored by grabbing hold of the moment and finding a way to succeed.
The grit and character of Curtin’s team has been a main storyline all year and it was on full display today. With their backs against the wall, the boys in blue clawed their way back. It’s a great time to be a Union fan.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-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.