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Missed Sapong PK, Epps chances lead to disappointing draw in New Jersey

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Union played to a scoreless draw with I-95 rivals New York Red Bulls

Trey Madara

A missed penalty kick was the difference between a draw and a win for the Philadelphia Union against fourth-place New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey on Saturday night.

Coming off consecutive wins for the first time this season, the Union played their I-95 rivals to a scoreless draw on a hot and humid night.

“I thought today that we, with a lot of young players on the field, stepped up in a big spot,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “I think we created enough chances to win the game. The guys are actually disappointed in the locker room, which is a change and not a usual feeling in this building because it is a tough place to play.”

The Union’s best chance to score came in the 51st minute. Marcus Epps’ shot inside the 18 hit Kemar Lawrence’s extended right arm, and the Union were awarded a penalty kick. CJ Sapong took the shot, aiming for the lower right corner, but missed the net.

Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who made two saves in his second consecutive start in place of injured ironman Luis Robles, dove the opposite way.

“[Sapong] has to have a short-term memory,” Curtin said. “It’s a tough one. The top players miss PKs. It happens all the time. It’s important that our teammates pick him up. Overall, I thought still he put in a good shift, he fought for us. So again, it’s not one person, or one play that it comes down to. Over the 90 minutes, there was enough chances for both teams, and we probably should have had a goal in the first half, if we’re being honest, with a couple of breakaways.”

In the 18th minute, Haris Medunjanin sent a long aerial pass downfield for Marcus Epps on the right side of the field. Epps controlled the ball with his right foot and took a shot from his left foot after cutting toward the middle of the field. Red Bulls defender Tim Parker headed the ball away to keep the game scoreless.

In the 29th minute, Epps received a pass from Borek Dockal and had a breakaway, but Meara made a save with his left arm and chest.

“It was a great save,” Epps said. “Lawrence also did a good job of closing the space, but like I said, I’ve got to start capitalizing on some of these opportunities.”

On the back line, Mark McKenzie — who made his third straight start and fourth of the season — and Auston Trusty had to defend against Kaku and Bradley Wright-Phillips, which Curtin said he cannot simulate in practice because of their intensity.

Kaku entered the game as the MLS’ assists leader and Wright-Phillips entered tied for the lead in goals. Neither recorded a point, but Wright-Phillips had opportunities to score. In stoppage time, he received a pass from midfielder Vincent Bezecourt, who replaced Kaku in the 90th minute, and controlled it with his chest. Wright-Phillips’ right-footed strike missed the net.

In the first half, Wright-Phillips put a pass from Daniel Royer into the back of the net, but the goal was disallowed because of an offsides.

He also missed the net in the 16th minute when he tried to tuck the ball inside the near post past Andre Blake, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season. Blake now has a 0.50 goals against average and three shutouts in his past four games against the Red Bulls.

McKenzie, who played most of the match with a yellow card, recorded six interceptions. Blake said he and Trusty did well knowing where Wright-Phillips was on the field.

“I tried to talk to them before the game, trying to tell them what are his tendencies or what he likes to do and I think they did a very good job today organizing and talking,” Blake said.

“I think me and Mark communicated well and organizing in front of us and dropping at the right times and closing the space down and keeping the space not there,” Trusty said.

Curtin used attack-minded substitutions in Ilsinho, Cory Burke and David Accam because he felt his team performed well enough to pursue the win. Accam entered in the 70th minute for Fafa Picault, who limped off with a leg cramp.

The Union now have 15 points, one more than their next opponent, the Chicago Fire. Philadelphia will host the Fire on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium. Then it’s off to Atlanta on Saturday before returning home to face the Richmond Kickers in the U.S. Open Cup on June 5 and Toronto FC on June 8.

“It’s important to get points on the road, but this game and performance will mean nothing if we don’t follow it up again quickly on Wednesday,” Curtin said.