1. The US Open Cup is on Tuesday, and maybe the CONCACAF Champions League game on Wednesday.
Teams all over the world learn to prioritize important games over less important games. On Tuesday, the Union are in their first ever cup final. On Wednesday, New York Red Bulls travel to Montreal to visit an almost resurgent Impact team in what is really a must-not-lose game in their quest to be the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League. Both teams were going to be playing three games in the space of eight days starting on Saturday, and the Red Bulls schedule is even worse, having played D.C. United on Wednesday night. These facts all factored into what really was a pretty terrible game between the Union and the Red Bulls.
No matter what Jim Curtin was saying before the game, his lineup told the truth of his intentions. Without playing players who have no right to be on an MLS team, he rested as many as he could. Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Sebastien Le Toux, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Noguiera (along with Bryan Brown and Andre Blake) made up probably the strongest Union bench ever. I would expect all five of those players to start on Tuesday, along with Conor Casey who didn't even start on the bench. Fabinho, Fred, Danny Cruz, Brian Carroll and Pedro Ribeiro all got starts when they would be lucky to get off the bench if this was a must win game.
In the other dugout, Mike Petke wasn't as obvious in his desire to rest starters. He started the majority of his stars minus Bradley Wright-Phillips who was nursing a hamstring injury. However, there wasn't really a single Red Bull player who stood out as playing well and/or with a high amount of energy. Perhaps they did this intentionally to be well-rested for their Champions League tilt, or perhaps the Red Bulls collectively had an awful day. Only they know the answer.
2. Two crucial penalty decisions
1) The NY Penalty decision was very very soft. I've seen a few replays of it now, and I would say if it wasn't 50/50 in terms of pulling, it's even Peguy Luyindula who is doing the majority of pulling on Ethan White instead of the other way around. Of course, Luyindula took a dive (for me) and the referee bought it. The Red Bulls hadn't had a sniff at goal before the penalty, but one questionable call later and they led 1-0. Not even Zac MacMath could save the day this time from the spot
2) The Union penalty decision. I've looked at it so many times and I still can't decide if there was contact, or if it was not a penalty. If there was contact, it was minimal. I'd be willing to say we got away with one there. HOWEVER, as soon as the referee deems it to be a penalty kick, then it surely has to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity (Ribeiro was swinging his foot to shoot, and was in the 6 yard box). That's a decision that not only could have helped the Union later in injury time and would have also meant New York were without Sekagya for their next game.
3. Why did you do that Zac MacMath?
As a person who has coached, any time I know the grass is wet and slippery like it was on Saturday, I'd tell my players to shoot at goal at every opportunity because you don't know what will happen. This was a game where shots seemed to be rare, and that makes me sad. What made me sadder was Thierry Henry's goal. A player of his ability knows to get shots on goal in those conditions; the reason of which was illustrated as MacMath made a pretty terrible attempt at the save. The rest of the game was very quiet for Zac, and with the U.S. Open Cup final looming that isn't the impression he was hoping to give Curtin.
4. Pedro Ribeiro making an impact at important times.
While all keepers make mistakes, many of them ending up as goals, it is up to the keeper's teammates to make amends for that. In the Union's case on Saturday, that happened although definitely more by luck than skill. Some good Andew Wenger work on the right led to a cross that was cleared against Pedro Ribeiro to bounce into the back of the net. Up until that point, Ribeiro had a difficult game, and was unable to really make his size count like Conor Casey would have. However, it must feel great to get your first MLS goal and such an important one at that, and hopefully that will give Ribeiro the confidence to continue to work hard to improve his game. I
It was also Ribeiro who managed to win the penalty. Though it may not have been a penalty, Ribeiro got into the correct position to take advantage of what was a pretty terrible whiff by Sekagya before being "brought down." While Ribeiro isn't ever going to be a striker, the fact he is able to get into positions to score goals and make an impact is going to help him be a useful CAM in future.
5. Union substitutions being made to get back into the game, whereas the Red Bulls made subs to hold on and rest.
At 2-1 ahead, the Red Bulls were looking to hang on. They didn't necessarily care about getting more goals, and therefore off went Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, two aging stars needing rest.
On the other hand, the Union had rested their stars, and were able to bring on Sebastien Le Toux, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana. What was a really flat first half, suddenly turned into a far better performance as Le Toux just being on the field invigorated the team and fans. The added quality from the subs helped create chances, especially for Edu, and it was Le Toux who ended up converting the game-tying penalty.
When Henry in particular left the game, the quality of the Red Bulls attack faltered, and the Union knew they could risk more players going forward in search of the win. It was a set of substitutions that completely changed the game in the Union's favor, and that is something that is a nice change from the opposite happening under John Hackworth.
6. The week ahead
If on Thursday, the Union were offered a draw in this game, I would like to think they would have taken it. If they were offered a draw when the lineups were announced then I think they would have definitely taken it. To actually get a draw out of this match, along with all the other East playoff chasing teams drawing, it was a fantastic day of results for the Union. Hopefully they can now take home that silverware on Tuesday, and then focus on getting into the playoffs starting on Saturday against Houston.
It should be an exciting week ahead to be a Union fan, and considering there are tickets still available for the final, if you have the spare time, then go to the game. Be a part of history.