A solid second half at a sold out Talen Energy stadium wasn’t enough for the Philadelphia Union to complete the comeback in their regular season finale. So for the second season in a row they enter the playoffs following a disappointing loss against NYC FC.
The Union’s struggles started even before kickoff. They already knew that team captain Alejandro Bedoya was out due to injury, but it was a surprise to learn that leading goalscorer Kacper Przybylko was removed from the lineup just before kickoff with a foot injury. This last second reshuffle meant that Fafa Picault got the start while Andrew Wooten was moved up into the sole striker position.
NYC FC faced a similar situation as their lead goal scorer for 2019, Heber, was also a late scratch. Ronald Matarrita was added to the starting lineup as a replacement and this left the visitors with only seventeen players available for the match.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to draw first blood and it was the unexpected starter Matarrita who scored first for NYCFC. The Union defenders were a bit unprepared for an NYC FC counter in the 7th minute and that allowed them to slip the ball into the box from the left side. A quick give and go between Matarrita and Valentin Castellanos gave Matarrita the opportunity to slot it past Andre Blake for the opening goal.
The Union didn’t respond immediately as they looked to slowly build momentum and get back into the game. But this approach didn’t pay off as NYC doubled their lead in the 22nd minute. A bad defensive giveaway gave Ismael Tajouri-Shradi a good look from the edge of the box and an unfortunate deflection off the head of Jamiro Monteiro made it 2-0 in favor of NYC FC.
The Union were desperate to find an opening goal and they had a few opportunities late in the first half. The best chance came from a Wooten header off of a free kick in the 28th minute. It should have gone in, but a big save from goalkeeper Sean Johnson kept it out of the net. And there was a scramble in the box in the 39th minute that nearly resulted in an NYC FC own goal, but this came to nothing as well.
Jim Curtin’s halftime pep talk must have been effective as the Union returned to the pitch in the second half with noticeably more energy than the first. They quickly won several corners, but could not put any away. Surprise, surprise.
NYC FC wasn’t done attacking as they were on the lookout for a third goal that could finally put the Union away. Castellanos nearly got it with a nifty volley in the 56th minute, but Blake was up to the task of making the save.
The Union made their first switch in the 60th minute as Marco Fabian came on to replace Ilsinho. The substitution came with a formation change as Fabian began playing high as a striker alongside Wooten.
Brendan Aaronson had a solid second half, but he was left with plenty to think about as he had two missed goal scoring opportunities in quick succession. The first was a low cross from Ilsinho that he skied over the goal in the 58th minute. The second came in the 64th minute courtesy of a beautiful through ball from Medunjanin. He was briefly one-on-one with the keeper, but he didn’t get a chance to control the ball and sent this shot over the crossbar as well.
As the clock continued to tick away, the Union began to press higher and harder. Fabian and Montiero tried shots from distance but Sean Johnson had the goal covered. He had plenty of help too as NYC FC pulled most of the team back to park on defense for the last fifteen minutes or so.
The Union tried to spark the offense by bringing on some younger players late in the match. Anthony Fontana replaced Fafa in the 75th minute and Matt Real came on for Aaronson in the 80th. Real’s substitution was particularly surprising as he wasn’t in the original eighteen for the match before Pryzbylko’s injury.
The Union kept up the pressure late in the match and it paid off as they earned a penalty off of an Ebenezer Ofori handball in the 86th minute. Montiero went for a cross at the top right corner of the box and Ofori was caught with his hand in an unnatural position. The referee pointed straight to the spot and Fabian buried the penalty to bring the Union within one.
But the Union only had a few minutes plus stoppage to work with if they wanted to find an equalizer. They received five minutes of stoppage but they couldn’t find any opportunities to get a shot on goal. In fact, NYC nearly put a third away on the counter a few times instead.
A late foul on Fabian lead to a unique moment after Blake came out of the net. NYC managed to clear the ball and Maxi Moralez looked to be dribbling towards an open Union net. But some spectacular hustle by Blake and Ray Gaddis helped break him down before he could shoot.
That would be pretty much the final moment for the Union as the whistle blew just a few seconds later. The final results for MLS Decision Day meant that the Union ended up in 3rd place in the East and 5th place in the Supporter’s Shield rankings. That also means that they’ll be hosting the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.