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Match Report: Union 0-1 Red Bulls

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

In a match that was billed as a great Eastern Conference showdown with both teams having plenty to play for, the New York Red Bulls dominated the Union with a 1-0 scoreline that could have been far more lopsided in favor of the hosts. A choppy game throughout, made worse by the poor nature of the playing surface, the Red Bulls bossed the game from the opening whistle, and captured a spot in the 2011 playoffs with a well deserved victory on a chilly Thursday night at Red Bull Arena.

Despite missing Thierry Henry through suspension, the Red Bulls started the game on the front foot and took an early advantage in the eighth minute when right back Jan Gunnar Solli, who was in sparkling form all night, found an unmarked Dane Richards in the box. The Jamaican powered his header off of the underside of the crossbar, but was fortunate to see it rebound into the net off of a prone Faryd Mondragon.

While that tally was enough to earn all three points, New York squandered a number of gilt-edged chances to put themselves out of reach, allowing the Union to stay in the match.

Pfeffer gets a start

With first place in the Eastern Conference on the line, Peter Nowak changed two players from Saturday’s home draw against Toronto FC. One change, Amobi Okugo, who entered the lineup to aid Brian Carroll in controlling the center of the midfield, was expected. The other, Zach Pfeffer, was a shock as the Union youngster beat out both Freddy Adu and Roger Torres to earn the start in midfield.

With Teemu Tainio and Rafael Marquez patrolling the center of midfield for New York, it was always going to be a tough assignment and against the bigger, stronger, veteran New York midfield, Pfeffer struggled with both his touch and his opponents. By the 12th minute, he had switched places with Justin Mapp, moving out to the left wing.

Where New York was sharp and aggressive in the early going, the Union were loose with their passes and stagnant in attack.

Mondragon saves the day

In the 17th minute, New York almost doubled their advantage as Dane Richards sprung a quick counterattack following a Carlos Valdes turnover. Richards easily skipped passed Brian Carroll, but could not slip his shot passed the onrushing Mondragon, who was beaten by Richards’ fake, but still managed to get a leg on the shot. It was an enormous save for the Union, but they were unable to use the momentum going forward.

Gabe Farfan, Brian Carroll and Justin Mapp would join Valdes in being guilty of sloppy turnovers as the Union simply could not find any rhythm in possession.

Sheanon almost steals one

On a rare attacking foray, the Union almost made New York pay for a moment of indecision when Michael Farfan’s cross into the center of the box found Sheanon Williams. Williams out-leaped both Rost and the two Red Bull centerbacks and, with the goalkeeper committed, was unlucky to see his header fly over the empty net.

As the half wore on, the physicality increased and New York was content to use their size advantage to pressure and bully their much smaller Union foes.

Mondragon saves the day, again…

With players falling all over the field and the pitch coming up in chunks, keeping the ball on the deck became a treacherous affair. When Danny Califf underhit his back pass in the 43rd minute, it was almost disaster for the Union. But Mondragon was again out smartly to deny Rodgers. Moments later, the Union were again let off the hook when Dane Richards slipped to ground after securing another poor turnover from the Union backline, this time from Sheanon Williams.

With little positive to show from the first half, the Union would have been happy to only trail be one goal. At the start of the second half they brought Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu on for Zach Pfeffer and Amobi Okugo, who had done well to show his defensive range and with his passing in the first half.

Mwanga immediately looked to make an impact as he cut past Marquez before blazing a shot wide of Frank Rost’s net. Otherwise the Union’s only offense came through free kicks, but Adu’s service left much to be desired.

Too close from New York

In the 51st minute, with the Union pinned deep in their own half, Tim Ream found himself unmarked near the penalty stripe on a corner kick and the Union were again lucky that he was unable to direct his header on target.

Minutes later and another surging run down the Union’s left flank, this time by Richards, almost came off for New York. Joel Lindpere beat Sheanon Williams with a near post run and when the ball was returned to Richards he was able to have an open look at the Union goal. His shot was tame, but Mondragon spilled the slippery ball into the path of the onrushing Rodgers who somehow missed the empty net.

Le Toux’s goal ruled out

On 67 minutes, Le Toux had the ball in the back of the net. But while Carlos Valdes was unable to get a touch on the swerving free kick, he was ruled offside and the goal was recalled. It would be the best chance for the Union, who played much of the final 20 minutes on the attack but could not find the creative breakthrough in the final third of the field.


  1. Wow, the Okugo-man crush comes out big in this article. Amobi was directly responsible for NY’s goal … pulling off Solli then pointing to some invisible Union player to mark him, giving Jan Gunner a ton of time on the ball. If Amobi stays with him, Califf doesn’t have to come out, which would’ve/could’ve ensured that wee Richards doesn’t have a sniff at goal … other than that HUGE brain-fart, he has good defensive range and pass the ball well.

    • You’re right. We should definitely blame him for the goal. And not any of the defenders, none of whom moved to the ball, allowing the 5′-7″ Richards a free header from 6 yards out.

      It is typical practice for a midfielder to tell his fullback to drop off and let him take the man with the ball. But, Okugo did not make this call soon enough and it put Gabe Farfan in a bad place, yes, that’s his fault.

      But with the midfield coughing up possession with most touches and looking slow to every challenge, Okugo was the pick of the bunch in the first half in terms of effort and quality.

      Feel free to keep hating.

      • Okugo had a horrible game

      • PhillyHotSpur says:

        And Okugo should NOT have been in there….

        our strongest CDM in Carroll was already out there…………..

        So what does Carroll do ?

        Go w/ a 2nd CDM in Okugo…..

        In the end, both of them occupying the same space and zero creativity…

        What on earth was Nowak thinking ????

        I need answers

      • MikeRsoccer says:

        Okugo had a bad game, but as Eli said he played better than any of the other midfielders in the first half yesterday. Carroll looked much worse than Okugo yesterday. Yes, Okugo did have a major part in the sole NY goal, but Valdes was just as responsible for not looking at his surroundings. Not to mention that if NY’s finishing was anything better than terrible that game SHOULD have been 3 or 4 nothing with arguably 2 of those goals as a result of a Carroll give away/poor clearance. Uncharacteristic of him and the team yesterday.

      • Goal sequence: Okugo loses his man. He should have recognized that Garfan was on “the ball” and should have followed the runner into space. Because he did not everybody shifts towards the ball with Califf going to the corner. This ultimately pulls Valdez out of position and creates too much space for the attack.

        No one to blame but Okugo in the events leading to the goal…IMO

  2. Ugly match for the Union all-around, including the coaching staff (Pfeffer? Really?). Was it just me, or did it seem like Red Thugs had an extra man on the pitch all game long….

    Mondragon was the sole bright spot. I thought he played a tremendous game.

    • If Rodgers could finish, Mondy would not have looked so good.

      • PhillyHotSpur says:

        Considering Rodgers was away, Mondragon should have not have been given the opportunity to come up w/ the save..

        But he did……. On multiple occasions……And he came up BIG…..great game.

        Not even a debate on who should be the #1 keeper heading into the playoffs.

  3. PhillyHotSpur says:

    this game was lost w/ Nowak and his starting 11….

    obviously playing for the point and not to lose………..of course, you lose

    Starting two CDMs in the Central MF w/ zero creativity.

    Starting a fockin 16 yr old who is clearly years away from this type of moment.

    The most explosive player in the first half…Mapp. Which tells you something……..

    And then our BL caught out of position too many times….

    What s disaster….Moment 1 , Union 0….it was simply too big for htis club

    2nd half not much beter………team giving the ball away at will………Adu looked terrible…ditto on dannyBoy…..

    the only positive……The Dragon is ready…..great game.

    Lets go Galaxy………lets go DC United..

    I want a bye………Too bad Nowak decided to fock up again w/ another terrible front6.

    Good crowd of course…….we deserved more

    • this message is brought to you by the letter “O”

      • PhillyHotSpur says:

        That would also represent the # of legitimate scoring chances that the U generated in that first half w/ the worse front 6 ever put on the pitch by the Philadelphia Union…

        Good old Nowak……….still tinkering w/ the line-up on the very last day of the season. Good times.

      • Hey do you guys like ellipsis?

        But yes I agree the lineup was doomed to fail. Sometimes I think the Union win in spite of Nowak, not because of. Freddy Adu had such an awful game I half expected him to get yanked.

      • I think you’re exactly right. The Union win games because they’ve done a good job spotting young talent and building a good roster, but they have to do it in spite of game after game of questionable lineup decisions.

        When the coach routinely has to make multiple halftime substitutions, it means he chooses bad starting lineups — which, of course, we already knew.

  4. PhillyHotSpur says:

    Playoff scenarios:

    A Houston or Columbus tie or Loss Or KC losing by more then two goals: top 3 in the Conference w/ a lovely bye

    If both teams win above & KC wins, ties or loses by one goal (they have the 4th tiebreaker in total goals)
    A Colorado Tie or Loss: Host the Rapids in Wild Card game
    A Colorado Win: Rapids host the Union in the Wild card game

  5. To paraphrase the MC5, I’m Mad like Eli Pearlman-Storch.

    Where the hell to begin…

    Starting Pfeffer, on the same side as your rookie converted fullback, and suprise suprise, NY ran up that side all night and created a goal from that side. Leaving Le Toux on an island (again) for most of the game. Creating nothing but a long range shot from Pfeffer in the first half. Showing a level of defensive fragility and disorganization that has not been seen since last season.

    More on the lineup….

    What has Roger and Jack done to not get a sniff as starters? Mwanaga I understand a little more, long injury layoff and rustiness. But Roger has proved he is game changer and Jack is not afraid to go at goal.

    The formation showed a terminal lack of shape. Putting Marfan behind Le Toux was not a good idea.

    An important game that resulted in a failure in nearly every aspect, from coaching on down….

    • Jack Mack has taken a step back this year…IMO doesnt deserve the start…really what has he done or shown this year to warrant a start?

      Can we stop undervaluing Paunovic now?

      • Pauno has grown on me a ton. I want to see him in midfield with mwanga or jack up front. finally get some numbers forward. plus, he seems like a genuinely good dude and great locker room presence.

        i think jack’s issue is just being mishandled in terms of playing time and use. he still makes wonderful runs, but has no confidence on the ball or in front of goal.

      • I like Paunovic, but they ran him into the ground. I have no issues with him as a player, but, and you can say this about a number of guys on this team, it how they use him.

      • MikeRsoccer says:

        Has Jack even been given a legitimate opportunity to show his abilities this year? He has come on as a sub rarely for anything more than 5 minutes and I believe he had one start the whole season.

      • CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

        He has had 5 starts, he has 558 minutes of play and scored one goal during that time.

  6. Just downright depressing. I was so high after the Seattle game but these last two have brought me down to Earth. It’s like they’re settling for just making it to the playoffs. One and done and then look to next year. I thought they were better than that. Very disappointing. When you do the player ratings no one but Mondragon should get higher than a 5.

  7. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    Freddy “American Pele” Adu? I think it should be Pe-lazy. Game was terrible. Pfeffer gets the start? and on the same side as Farfan? Two CDM’s? No heart. No chance at any meaningful possesion with that line-up. Frustration.

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