It looked like it was going to be another depressing night for the Philadelphia Union fans. The team fell behind early and they made some critical errors that allowed additional goals. In past seasons, that would have meant the Union were done for.
But that was then and this is now. The 2019 Union squad did what no other Union team has been able to do before. They erased a two goal deficit to force extra time before a Marco Fabian winner secured the first postseason victory in Philadelphia Union history.
Things weren’t going according to plan for the Union even before the match started. Despite assurances that lead scorer Kacper Przybylko should be ready to start the match, he ultimately wasn’t able to make an appearance in the eighteen. Curtin went with the 4-4-2 diamond shape and Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten were the two options at striker.
The New York Red Bulls stepped on the gas at the opening whistle and it paid off for them early. After a few minutes of intense pressure from the visitors, Josh Sims was able to put the opening goal away in just the 6th minute. The Red Bulls pounced on a Union turnover and Sims simply blasted a right footed shot past Andre Blake. Blake got a hand to it, but not enough to push it wide.
This misfortune seemed to knock the Union out of their funk and they began to settle in as the first half progressed. They won a few corners in the 14th minute, but in a sign of things to come, they failed to put away several good scoring chances. They struggled to completely put things together as the Union passing always seemed to be just a little bit off.
The Red Bulls didn’t have the same issues and they doubled their lead off of a corner kick of their own. It was the third consecutive corner for NYRB and Blake misplayed the kick as he attempted to punch it away. This allowed Tim Parker to head the ball just inside the far post.
New York almost managed a third goal just a minute later, but the play was whistled dead after Sims clashed with Blake. Sims got the worst of it and he was subbed out for Alex Muyl as a precaution.
The Union didn’t hang their heads after going down by two and they quickly managed to claw one back. Haris Medunjanin curled a long cross off of a free kick and it bounced past Mark McKenzie to an open Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya slammed it against the far post and pulled the Union within one.
The Union kept up the energy after the goal, but it felt like nothing was going their way the rest of the half. Luis Robles just barely saved a Jamiro Montiero header in the 33rd minute after it partially crossed the line. Another opportunity came at the end of regular time as the Union made three shots on frame from inside the box but all of them were blacked by the Red Bulls. The fans were screaming for a handball on one of the blocks, but VAR wasn’t called in.
The Union made things harder on themselves just before halftime as another mistake in the box allowed a third Red Bulls goal. A foul at midfield gave the Red Bulls a long free kick opportunity so they curled a long ball into the box. Blake came out for the punch but couldn’t push it away as he bumped into McKenzie. The loose ball spilled to the feet of Tom Barlow and he finished into the empty net.
During his halftime interview, Jim Curtin said that the second half of the match would feature more attacking from the Union as well as a healthy dose of Ilsinho.
Curtin said the Union would attack early, and that’s exactly what they did. The NYRB defense felt the pressure but they weren’t allowing any shots at first. But the Union were able to take advantage of a big set piece opportunity in the 52nd minute. Medunjanin took the kick but the Union were only able to head the shot off the crossbar. Luckily, Jack Elliott was there for the rebound and he headed it past Robles at the far post.
Once the Union pulled within one, they once again struggled to finish their opportunities. A Santos header in the 53rd minute looked like it was going in, but Robles made a point blank save to deny him. Medunjanin had an open look as well in the 63rd minute, but his shot was scuffed and went just wide of the far post.
But those mistakes were forgotten thanks to some remarkable play from Santos and Fafa Picault. Fafa was subbed in for Aaronson in the 72nd minute to try and boost the Union’s speed in the final minutes. Shortly after that, Santos broke loose but was forced out wide instead of taking a shot. Santos was able to turn and cross the ball and it was the 5’8” Picault who won the header and powered in the equalizer.
With the score leveled so late in the match, the Union wanted to use their momentum to get the win without extra time. Bedoya had a few chances, but his shots weren’t on frame. A pair of corners in the 86th minute resulted in good shots, but the Union couldn’t put one away. NYRB took the opposite approach as they attempted to slow down the play and take it to extra time.
Both sides traded corners in added time and Picualt nearly had the winner after Union corner. But Robles made the save of the day to knock Fafa’s shot away and preserve the draw. The scoreline held after 90 minutes and the Union’s second ever home playoff match was going into extra time.
The Union didn’t miss a beat when extra time began. Kai Wagner took a shot from outside the box off of a corner that Robles had to dig deep to save and soon after Medunjanin attempted a volley from distance that went just high. Ilsinho had plenty of time with the ball on the right side, but a squad of NYRB defenders kept him busy every time.
But all that pressure would eventually pay off. Just as NYRB scored at the death of the the first half of regular time, and the Union managed to score at the death of the first half of added time.
Picault made a high cross after what looked like a handball, and late sub Marco Fabian managed to track it down at the endline. He quickly crossed the ball back in and it appeared to take a fortunate deflection into the Red Bulls net. The goal gave the Union the lead for the first time after one hundred and five minutes.
After mostly sitting back on their heels for sixty minutes, the Red Bulls had to find a way to restart their offense. It was easier said than done as they hadn’t managed a shot since the 65th minute.
The Union declined to sit back an bunker down and they decided that the best defense would be a good offense. Fafa in particular had several opportunities to make dangerous runs to use up the clock and wear out the Red Bulls defenders. He nearly slotted away a second goal in the 116th minute, but Robles made yet another clutch save.
The Red Bulls options were limited in the final minutes as several of their players pulled up with cramps. Cristian Casseres may also have had a more serious injury as he pulled up holding his groin and never returned.
The pressure lasted until the final seconds because of an unusual sequence in added time. Fafa though that he scored another goal to put the Union ahead 5-3, but it was waived off due to an offside call. This was news to Fafa, Fabian, and some others who were taking selfies with the Union faithful. They were forced to hustle back onto the pitch once NYRB resumed play without them.
Bradley Wright Philips had the last shot of the match deep into added time, but his header off of the free kick went just wide. Blake made sure the final seconds had ticked away before his resulting goal kick and the ref blew the whistle to finalize the Union victory.
Next stop, Atlanta.