The Philadelphia Union traveled to Harrison, New Jersey, fresh off a two-week break, taking on a New York Red Bull side that had just dropped points to Montreal, yet were still in the hunt for the Supporters' Shield title for the second time in three years. In the end, Philadelphia tried their best to hand the shield to the Red Bulls. How?
1. The worst start in MLS history
It's been all over the internet since Mike Grella scored seven seconds into the game. It was the quickest goal in MLS history. Having had two whole weeks to prepare for the game, hoping to get at the Red Bulls early, it must have been upsetting to Jim Curtin to watch those seven seconds.
When CJ Sapong and Cristian Maidana took the kick off, there was no danger. Maidana played it back to Michael Lahoud, only the Union midfielder wasn't anywhere near ready. Instead of taking part in the play, Lahoud decided to just point to the ball (possibly saying to Grella, "there it is, on you go buddy"). Grella ran at Steven VItoria, and took a quick shot that deflected into the back of the net at the near post of Andre Blake. Before most Union fans had even settled down to watch the game the team were behind, and it wouldn't get any better from there. It may well have sucked all the life out of the Union, and certainly revitalised the Red Bulls.
2. Forgetting about the back post
Just a few minutes after the first goal, the Red Bulls had a corner. For a long time now, corners have been a problem for Philadelphia and this may have been one of the worst in recent memory. When the ball was sent in, every single Union defender decided to go towards the near post. The only problem with that is that it left the entire back post free of defenders. That meant that when the initial cross was sent in and flicked on, it was an easy finish for Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Perhaps just as worrying is that before the corner was sent in, there didn't seem to be anyone close to Wright-Phillips to pick him up in the first place. Yet again the Union defense was found asleep, and this has to be worrying for Jim Curtin. It seems that no matter how long he has been in charge, he still is not able to organize the defense to resemble something that would be passable at the MLS level.
3. Fernando Aristeguieta
After the game, Jim Curtin commented that he had told the players he could easily make seven subs. I would guess that he could easily have made seven subsitutions. I'd guess that if allowed he could have made 10 substitutions, as the entire team left Andre Blake out to dry. You could make that 11 if you consider that Blake got beat at the near post twice, albeit one from a deflection. In the end, Curtin dragged off a disappointing Steven Vitoria who could have ruined any chance of staying around next year by having an awful first half. Also off was Cristian Maidana, who just didn't get going (again). On came Ethan White and Fernando Aristeguieta.
I would put it down to the Red Bulls already being 4-0 up, but the Venezuelan striker brought on the effort required for what was a rivalry game. There was suddenly a lot more movement up front, and space for the Union forwards to run. Even if it was just because of the Red Bulls taking their foot off the pedal, at least Fernando gave the Union front office something to think about in terms of keeping him around next season.
4. An all-star caliber goalkeeper
While it would have likely made no difference in the outcome of the game, and may have made the Red Bulls angry, waking them back up, there were two fantastic saves from Luis Robles that made sure there wasn't a late shock for the Red Bulls.
The first was from a corner that was cleared by the Red Bull defense. Michael Lahoud put the ball back into the box, and Fernando Aristegueita made the run into space and sent a volley towards the bottom left corner. However, Robles was equal to the task and parried the ball to safety.
The second was from a great cross by Andrew Wenger, who was in the side at right-back replacing Raymon Gaddis. The center-back-turned-striker-turned-winger-turned-full-back's cross was met by Eric Ayuk, whose header was going for the corner. However, yet again, Robles spoiled any comeback with a fine save.
While these things together were the turning points of the game, the truth is that the Red Bulls were far better than Philadelphia. They were hungry, going for that trophy and have now given themselves the easiest trip to the MLS Cup final they could have. Philadelphia on the other hand may not have been able to live with the Red Bulls on form if they were on top form. The sad truth is that the Union are nowhere near good enough, and will have to make a lot changes to compete next year.