Union retakes 1st place; can Philly keep their momentum going?

The Philadelphia Union is back on top of MLS’ eastern conference after a late-winning goal over NYCFC this past weekend. They leapfrog New York City, and now look to hold onto first place heading into a crucial stretch of the season.

Union
PORTLAND, OR – MAY 22: Philadelphia Union midfielder Daniel Gazdag (6) celebrates his goal with Alejandro Bedoya (11) during an MLS match between the Philadelphia Union and the Portland Timbers on May 22, 2022, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire).

Union retakes 1st place in thriller over NYCFC

If you missed the action this past Sunday, you missed one of the best budding rivalries in MLS. Over the past few years, the Union and NYCFC have been the two best teams in the eastern conference. The two met last year with a chance to go to MLS Cup, and a full-strength New York City side beat a covid-bitten Union side and went on to win MLS Cup. This season, Philly beat NYCFC in New York for the first time ever and followed it up by winning a thrilling match at home.

Union goes up early

When Philadelphia and NYCFC meet, players step their games up; the stakes feel bigger. For Philly, this was clear in this latest iteration. The home side came out and dominated the game early on. NYCFC surprised the hosts by pressing them early looking to get an early goal, but it backfired very badly in the ninth minute.

Jack Elliot sprayed a pass forward breaking the press to find Alejandro Bedoya on the right-wing. With no one in front of him, Bedoya carried the ball forward and picked out a perfect near-post run by Mikael Uhre. Uhre was able to beat his man and get a definitive touch to guide the ball past NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson.

It was 1-0 inside the first 10 minutes and dominated the rest of the first half. Heading to the second, the team felt the pressures that have plagued them for the majority of this 2022 season.

Finding a way to win through crazy circumstances

As the second half got underway NYCFC looked to change how they played. They subbed both of their outside backs and looked to control the ball and shove it through the Union’s defense. They did a good job of controlling the ball, but couldn’t find a goal. Things took a turn for the craziest with about 10 minutes left.

After a challenge left Philly forward Julian Carranza on the field holding his head, Union trainer Paul Rushing came on to the field to evaluate the injury. While doing so an NYCFC player came over to “help” Carranza get up. Rushing tried to politely tap him away, but NYCFC wouldn’t back down. The visitors kept getting in the way of the medics’ evaluation space, and Rushing wanted no part of it. He shoved the City player away, causing more NYCFC players, most notably Tati Castellanos, to come over. A scuffle ensued, and Rushing stood his ground for his team. He was issued a red card and instantly became a Philadelphia legend, while Castellanos got a yellow for instigating.

After this NYCFC was gifted a late penalty for a “letter of the law” handball in the box by Kai Wagner who was sliding to block a shot, and the ball hit his trailing arm. Castellanos stepped up and slotted home the pen; he wheeled off to celebrate to a chorus of boos and raindrops of beer from flying beer cans. The match looked to end in an agonizing draw, but there was more drama to be had.

In the sixth minute of stoppage time, the Union looked to find the winning goal in some fashion. Jose Martinez, who is audibly told by many fans to not take long shots didn’t listen and tagged a shot toward NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson. The ball flew through bodies and bounced off of the only Union substitute of the day Cory Burke. The deflection made Johnson’s dive take him the wrong way and the ball dribbled into the net. The referee first flagged the play for offside but after a check of VAR they noted that Burke was onside when the ball hit him; therefore, the goal was good!

Philly went on to win the match after one more VAR check that might have gifted NYCFC another penalty kick, and took first place! Now they have to recover and prepare for a midweek match on the road at the last-place team in the east, Chicago Fire.

Philly head to Chicago for a midweek matchup

Philly won the thriller over NYCFC while being depleted. They only brought on one sub, and their bench is a bit thin at the moment. With Sergio Santos being stuck in the green card process, and four homegrowns (Aaronson, Craig, McGlynn, and Sullivan) in Honduras with the USA U-20s in the Concacaf Championships, Philly has had to roll with the guys they have. AS they look to shift to playing midweek at last-place Chicago, the same team will need to go again.

Luckily for Philadelphia, they are playing a Chicago side that has one win since April. Chicago star Xherdan Shaqiri has been hurt, and their attackers Chris Mueller and Kacper Przybylko haven’t been scoring in his absence. While this Chicago team isn’t scoring in bunches, they can still frustrate teams, and this is a textbook trap game for Philly.

We saw it last season in a 3-3 draw from Soldier Field, Philly sometimes plays down to their opponent, especially on the road. This cannot happen if they want to stay atop the east and push for the supporters’ shield in 2022. The Union’s press will need to continue to be hitting on all cylinders. If there’s a lull in their style Chicago will be able to grow into the game. Ex-Union players Kacper Przybylko and Fabian Herbers will be raring to hit their old team where it hurts.

A win for Chicago would lift them out of the basement of the east, and they can’t be underestimated. However, If Philly wants to make a statement to the rest of MLS, they will need to go to Chicago and win by multiple goals. The momentum of a winning streak is hanging in the balance on Wednesday night at Chicago, can Philly keep it going?

If there was a time for a winning streak, that time is now

The Union head to Chicago tomorrow night for a midweek trip, and kicks off a three-game-in-10-day stretch where the Union will play the bottom three teams in the east. They play Chicago, who is in last place on Wednesday, go to third-to-last Columbus Crew on Sunday, and then return home to play second-to-last-place DC United Friday, July 8th.

The potential to take nine points from these three games has to be the priority for this Union team. Philly is shorthanded, and on the road for two of the three matches. However, if they want to compete with NYCFC’s endless supply of money, and LAFC’s big summer of signing Chiellini, Bale, Vela, and maybe another DP, then the Union needs to continue a winning streak here in the dog days of summer.

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Mandatory Credit: Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire

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