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Monday Morning Game Changers: Giving the Blues the blues

The Philadelphia Union did all of the right things - and had a bit of luck - in their win over New York City FC.

Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC
Tranquillo Barnetta celebrates a Philadelphia Union goal by Chris Pontius against New York City FC.
Trey Madara / Brotherly Game

1.) Over before it started? New York City FC's starting eleven was missing some of its marquee players. David Villa started, as did Kwadwo Poku, however Mix Diskerud was on the bench - which is more than could be said for either Frank Lampard or Andrea Pirlo. When you have that much talent (and salary) sitting on the bench, you're already at a huge disadvantage.

2.) Chris Pontius is a warrior. Pontius had a couple of good looks at goal early on, including this set piece.

His header went just wide, and if CJ Sapong hadn't been held he would have been able to get to it before it went past the far post. It looked like things were going to come apart after he caught an elbow just under his eye that opened up a pretty nasty gash that bled profusely. He had to leave the match twice in order to try and get the bleeding stopped, and there was some concern that he'd have to come out for someone who wasn't gushing blood from his face.

Kudos to the medical staff for finally getting the bleeding stopped so that he could continue playing.

3.) David Villa hits the crossbar. On this particular play, the Union broke down defensively and were lucky not to be made to suffer for it.

NYCFC left back Ronald Matarrita went from the center of the pitch off to the left, and drew Sebastien Le Toux out on him. Matarrita then put it forward to Stiven Mendoza, who had Keegan Rosenberry on him. The pace of Mendoza gave Rosenberry fits all day - especially on this play. Mendoza's cut down the line gained him a step on Rosenberry, and the Union's back line dropped back accordingly. Josh Yaro did well to maintain his position centrally, however there was too much space between the Union defenders and a world-class player like David Villa.

David Villa is given far too much space by the Philadelphia Union defense. video

David Villa was able to exploit that space, and he fired a shot that rang off of the crossbar. The Union were lucky on this - Andre Blake would not have been able to stop this, and going down a goal here would have changed the entire complexion of the match.

4.) Tranquillo Barnetta makes magic happen. On the Union's first goal, Tranquillo Barnetta steals the show.

After getting the ball, he dribbled up the center of the pitch. NYCFC's Ronald Matarrita ran toward the on-rushing Barnetta to help try and dispossess him - leaving Sebastien Le Toux wide open on the Union's right wing. Barnetta drew Matarrita in about as far as possible and then sprung Le Toux with a great ball. Le Toux one touched it back toward center, where CJ Sapong was well defended by center back Jason Hernandez. Sapong overshot the ball while Hernandez fell, and the ball just sat there for a moment - until Barnetta came seemingly out of nowhere and was able to somehow get the ball over the prone Hernandez. He regained possession and got it across to Chris Pontius - who himself had rotate inward toward the center of the net. Pontius redirected the ball into the back of the net. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders really stood no shot of stopping this one, and the Union were up 1-0.

5.) CJ Sapong is finally rewarded for his hard work. Perhaps he's heard all of the talk of getting another call up to the United States Men's National Team, perhaps he hasn't. Either way, Sapong's stock continues to rise thanks to plays like the near-miss by Pontius or the Pontius goal (maybe Pontius should get a look for the USMNT?) - and by scoring a goal of his own in the 40th minute.

Richie Marquez sent in a perfect free kick to Sapong, who headed it back to Sebastien Le Toux, who was given far too much space by the NYCFC defense. Le Toux rifled the ball in on goal, and Sapong's deft touch again gave Josh Saunders no chance at stopping the shot, and the Union were up 2-0. That sort of touch is something that often leads to a ball going into the stands, but Sapong made it look so easy.

6.) Ray Gaddis on for Fabinho at the half. While Jim Curtin had said repeatedly that he didn't believe in making a sub at the half if someone had picked up a yellow card, he reversed course a bit. Fabinho was shown a yellow card late in the first half, and Ray Gaddis was subbed on in the second.

It was a good sub - Gaddis needed to get some playing time in since he has seen zero minutes this year and will need to be in the left back position next Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes, and also no one was sent off. The Union finished with all eleven men on the pitch, and that's important considering two of their three losses came down a man.

7.) The Union looked comfortable with a lead. All too often we have seen the Union blow leads late, looking uncomfortable and lacking the confidence to finish off an opponent. That was not the case on Saturday. While New York City had the advantage in possession, they really didn't do much of anything with the possession. The Union's subs were all well-timed and kept them in a position to win. Gaddis for Fabinho took care of a possible card liability. Ilsinho on for Barnetta kept the offensive pressure on. And Warren Creavalle came on for Pontius to add some defensive grit as NYCFC desperately pushed for a lifeline. It may not have been the perfect win, but it was a good solid win for the Union to continue to build confidence on - and take the lead in the Eastern Conference.