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Anatomy of a Goal: The Union’s 22-pass sequence that picked apart the Red Bulls

The lone goal of the night Tuesday came after a long build-up

Kacper Przybylko after scoring in the 31st minute against the New York Red Bulls on August 25, 2020
Photo by Morgan Tencza

Kacper Przybylko scored the only goal in the 31st minute Tuesday night as the Philadelphia Union beat the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in their first home game since their victory over the Red Bulls last October 20 th in the MLS Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

The Union scored an impressive team goal as if it were straight from the training ground, one in which they connected 22 passes before Przybylko side-footed home Ray Gaddis’ cross from close range. The goal was Przybylko’s second of the season and his first since scoring against Inter Miami in the Union’s second game of the MLS is Back Tournament.

For Gaddis, the assist was the 10th in his career and his first since last September’s game against San Jose. Another notable component of the goal, beside the number of passes, was the patience in which the Union maintained possession and waited for the Red Bulls to lose their shape. Though the Red Bulls displayed some questionable team defending, the Union deserve credit for exploiting that weakness.

The sequence began with a Union throw-in well inside their own half. Instead of pressing, the Red Bulls backed off and conceded possession, something they’d done often throughout the first 30 minutes, and allowed the Union to pass the ball around, in, and out again until eventually dropping inside their own half. This wouldn’t be a bad strategy on the road against a Union midfield that is better, but the Red Bulls never pressured, stayed in straight lines, and failed to rotate fast enough. And allowing the Union midfield time and space is like leaving your Wawa hoagie on a beach towel with swarming seagulls.

After 13 passes that backed the Red Bulls into their own half, the first penetrating ball from Mark McKenzie to Jamiro Monteiro through a channel down the left side beat three defenders, exposing those Red Bull gaps and lines. Monteiro had time but was stuck near the sideline with three surrounding defenders, perfect double team position. The Red Bulls were slow to press, and Monteiro pulled the ball back and found Kai Wagner, who passed to José Martinez all alone in the middle. Again, New York was slow to react, and Martinez turned and switched the play to an open Alejandro Bedoya on the far right side, a sequence that happened often in the early minutes.

This time, New York rotated, but when Bedoya played the ball back to Jakob Glesnes, they never pulled out or applied pressure. Instead they stayed collapsed, so Glesnes had time to pass to Martinez again in the middle with space, and as Bedoya slid back, Ray Gaddis pushed forward, and Wooten filled Bedoya’s spot out wide.

Something important here about offensive shape. As Bedoya played the ball back to Glesnes, Przybylko and Aaronson remained central, which left room wide for Gaddis to run into. The ball from Wooten led Gaddis, which helped Gaddis face the Red Bull defender. He had a look at the flat back four and played a strong swirling ball behind the line away from Red Bulls’ keeper Ryan Meara, freezing him. A lack of communication between Meara and his central defenders contributed to the goal, but Przybylko was in his wheelhouse, unmarked. Aaron Long barely glanced his way. Przybylko did well to slip in behind the line, meet the ball, and tuck it home off a short hop.

It’s energizing for a team to have so many players involved in one goal. And that lift led to several opportunities for Przybylko and Sergio Santos in the second half as the Red Bulls took more chances at the other end. Team goals like this also builds confidence for future games, especially for Przybylko, who needed a poacher’s goal to prove that he’s finding his form.