Union match reports

Match report: Philadelphia Union 0-1 New York Red Bulls

Photo: Paul Rudderow

New York Red Bulls journeyed down I-95 in their quest for the Supporters’ Shield Sunday afternoon, taking on a Philadelphia Union side that was equally determined to take three points, which would all but ensure a playoff game at home. Only one side would leave happy, however, as Red Bulls scored a penalty kick to take the game’s lone goal and all three points.

The first half of the match saw no goals but plenty of action as both sides created several chances for themselves. Philadelphia Union actually seemed the better side, as they did more to stop the Red Bulls defensively and created more on offense. Perhaps their best opportunity came in the 27th minute, as winger Fafa Picault gathered the ball just 12 yards out of net. He hesitated, however, and ultimately his shot went over the net.

A bit of aggression ensued just as head referee Ted Unkel blew his whistle to end the half. Union captain Alejandro Bedoya went down, and a Red Bulls player fell on top of him. Some of the Union perceived an initial offense as the Red Bulls player seemed to put some extra weight on Bedoya. C.J. Sapong began pushing in retaliation, and a scrum shortly formed with both sides pushing and shoving. After both teams broke it up and entered the locker room, the officials signaled a VAR review. No offenses were given, but tensions were clearly rising.

It didn’t take long for the aggression to resume, as Auston Trusty caught a yellow card less than two minutes into the second half after taking down a Red Bulls player on the wing. Tyler Adams would soon receive a yellow card of his own after elbowing Keegan Rosenberry in the face. Altercations like these both reflected and set the tone for the remainder of the match, which would see two more yellow cards before the end.

Again both teams created chances until Red Bulls caught a break in the 69’th minute. After signaling for a VAR review, Ted Unkel awarded a penalty kick to New York for a handball infraction on Alejandro Bedoya in the box. Kaku took the kick and shot it low to his right as Andre Blake dove to the left. Red Bulls had taken the lead 1-0.

Philadelphia would be unable to counter successfully. Red Bulls remained at Atlanta United’s heels for the Supporters’ Shield. The Union remained in fourth place and in hunt of a home playoff match.

Three points

1. Breaking the press. It’s been well noted that the press is key to Red Bulls’ game. If they can force the ball out to the wings, they can then cut off angles and force a bad play. The best way to break that press is to simply get past it. That’s obviously easier said than done, but young center backs Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty did well with the ball at their feet to dribble past defenders in the middle and get the ball to a free midfield. Given the age of the young defenders and the strength of the Red Bulls’ press, it’s a risky strategy. It didn’t result in any goals, but it still paid off in terms of moving the ball forward.

2. Offensive options. In short, the Union don’t have very many on their roster. After Red Bulls went up a goal, fans were left scratching their heads as to whom head coach Jim Curtin could plug into the match to generate some offensive pressure. He decided to put Jay Simpson in for Fafa Picault, an unsurprising move with David Accam out for the season, but ultimately ineffective.

3. What this means for the Union. A win would have done a lot to secure the Union a home playoff match, but they aren’t necessarily out of contention for one either. Orlando City beat Columbus Crew, who are only two points behind the Union, and D.C. United beat NYC FC. That means D.C. are tied on points with the Union but lose in the head-to-head tie breaker. It also means that the Union take third place next week if they can beat NYC FC. So, what does this mean for the Union? It means next week is huge.


Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Ray Gaddis, Keegan Rosenberry, Alejandro Bedoya, Borek Dockal, Haris Medunjanin, Fafa Picault (Jay Simpson 81′), C.J. Sapong (Ilsinho – 63′), Cory Burke
Unused Subs: John McCarthy, Jack Elliott, Fabinho, Derrick Jones, Warren Creavalle

New York Red Bulls

Luis Robles, Tim Parker, Connor Lade, Michael Murillo, Aaron Long, Tyler Adams, Marc Rzatkowski (Derrick Etienne – half), Sean Davis, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Kaku (Cristian Casseres Jr. – 90 +1′), Alex Muyl (Andreas Ivan 82′)
Unused Subs: Ryan Meara, Cristian Casseres Jr, Aurilien Collin, Brian White, Fidel Escobar

Scoring summary

NYRB: Kaku – 69′

Disciplinary summary

PHI: C.J. Sapong – 37′ (Unsporting behavior)

PHI: Auston Trusty – 47′ (Unsporting behavior)

NYRB: Tyler Adams – 55′ (Unsporting behavior)

NYRB: Alex Muyl – 58′ (Dissent)

PHI: Fafa Picault – 66′ (Unsporting behavior)


Philadelphia Union New York Red Bulls
14 Shots 8
2 Shots on Target 4
6 Shots off Target 3
6 Blocked Shots 1
5 Corner Kicks 1
10 Crosses 3
0 Offsides 4
13 Fouls 13
3 Yellow Cards 2
0 Red Cards 0
576 Total Passes 302
77% Passing Accuracy 57%
66% Possession 34%
62 Duels Won 52
54.4% Duels Won % 45.6%
6 Tackles Won 12
3 Saves 2
4 Clearances 25


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    …say Unkel.
    to bad, it was one of best games they’ve played IMO. Controlled possession against a high pressing team. too many times opting to put ball up in the wind and despite what that dimwit Tommy says…. possession doesn’t come to nothing just because you don’t lump it into the box.
    Heavens I cannot wait for him to leave the booth.

    • Exactly this. We played “our way” against one of the two best teams in the league and met them punch for punch. The PK was totally against the run of play. WE out possessed and out passed them.

      Trusty and McKenzie also totally put a wet blanket over BWP and Kaku all game.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        for the exception of a pre frontal cortex still being built at times and the associated moments of WTF (which in their defense are quite rare), like when I was a kid driving 100mph in the rain -at the same age—those two young men play fucking really mature footy.
        I would lose them both to Europe with a happy happy bye bye wave. Go forth fledglings. Make us proud.

    • One of the best games they’ve played, with only 2 shots on target? I strongly disagree with that statement. I think you’re confusing having a lot of possession with playing well. The Red Bulls are fine giving up possession because it means they can press; they average only 48.5% of possession on the road. I thought the Union were really sloppy with the ball, especially in the final 3rd, and Haris had a pretty poor game, and awful set pieces.
      That being said, Trust and Mackenzie were outstanding, so ALL credit to them. I looked for BWP a lot to see where he was, and for most of the game one of those two was never far behind.

      • If their average if 48.5% thats great because we held them to 34%! https://matchcenter.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2018-10-21-philadelphia-union-vs-new-york-red-bulls/boxscore

        I agree “best” games is a bit optimistic, but I feel people are still underrated a game where one of the big boys of the league came in and for the most part we played OUR game on OUR field.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        “Confusing a lot of possession with playing well”
        …playing well comes with having possession of the ball for me. have you not been following my argument for 3 years.
        Just Play Well means the rhythm of likeminded movement when in possession of the ball-shots on gol do not enter into my calculus.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I also tend to think giving up possession is only relevant if Union are actually able to keep possession…which historically has been……
        ….so while I appreciate the comment and agree about your point RB really were not seeking the ball, the game had excellent periods of rhythm and flow – set pieces notwithstanding.
        or in elephant parlance… aesthetic.

      • All fair points, just a friendly discussion. I get the point about like-minded movement, and with +60% possession they had better move the ball well – therefore my disagreement comes from the fact that the possession and movement led to nothing. I guess I would equate it to staring at a big ice cream sundae, admiring it, showing it to your friends, and by the time you go to eat it, it’s melted. The movement looked great, possession looked great, passes were great-ish, but without a real threat on goal they lose overall points, in my opinion.

    • I was there yesterday. I commented at halftime to my son that was the best live 1/2 of football we have ever seen the Union play. It was the closest I’ve seen them play to European football vs MLS Soccer.
      Let’s enjoy Trusty and McKenzie while we can, they are both as good or better than Miazga at 18 when he was signed with Chelsea. (We should also remind ourselves that our Manager has had a hand in developing these fine center backs since they and he joined the Academy).
      Here’s to a win next week and the final week of the season being meaningful for the boys in blue.

      • Agree that the first half was great and that if we had had a poacher instead of Sapong in the lineup we would have scored. Too bad that the 2nd half was garbage.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I was also there and I agree. They played one of the best games I have ever seen them play… with the obvious exception of not getting a goal. Tough not to get at least one, but I’m not that mad about yesterday.

  2. Monkey’s Unkel was a lousy ref in the WPS and I have no idea why MLS hired him. It’s a shame he fell for it every time the pink cows went down easily and didn’t understand that the Union actually tried to stay on their feet.

  3. It was a good, hard fought game but I think Sapong is a liability and is costing the team offensive momentum. He has not demonstrated any appreciable ball handling skills. I cringe when they pass to him because unless has a quick outlet pass he will lose possession. I hope they start Ilsinho for the last game, assuming he can go at least 60 at this point.

    • I agree 100%. RW is another important spot to upgrade this offense. Sapong simply can’t keep up with how we play anymore.

      • I think you Jame and CB have the CJ situation perfectly nailed. I love him, but I think the team has far outgrown CJ. He has a boundless athleticism that is just water poured in to the sand if he can’t harness it into something productive.

    • I also agree. His decision making with the ball is too slow. It’s like he has to think then decide what to do with the ball instead of just doing it.
      When you check the pre-match report, see its Ted Unkel and automatically go “well this game will be f’d up.”, that’s a problem.

  4. Shouldn’t Fafa’s yellow card be rescinded, since VAR decision to call a PK meant that the play after the PK should have been called essentially didn’t happen? Earlier this season, another team scored a goal and then a VAR decision on the play before meant that the goal essentially hadn’t happened.

    • Play never stopped. So it was one continuous play.

    • Good question. I asked the same question. I don’t believe that’s the approach, but I wonder if it should be.

      • I think it should be up to the ref. If it was a tactical foul or a dive or persistent infringement, then by all means rescind it. On the other hand, if it is a dangerous play type foul or foul language dissent, then the card should stay.

  5. So, i wasn’t aware that refs can let play continue and then decide to look at an inncodent prior to the recent play. Like wtf?? I’ve never seen that happen. Secondly , Bedoya was clearly protecting himself from getting annihilated in the air. He had no clue where the ball was. The ref wasn’t doing too bad until he decided to go back in time and make that call! Our back four did pretty damn good against the pink cows. Trusty still needs s Ton of work with his distribution. Once again Curtin decides not to have balls. He should have been estatic with the refs with the PK call. You gotta show and persuade them that they made the wrong call. He should have taken Medujanin out in the second half. The guy has only two jobs to make precise and critical passes and to make successful crosses , corners and free kicks. He did none of this in the second half. He should have been subbed. Creavalle would have had more success going up field at this point. Also, Curtin should have been flipping out when it was clear that the movement off the ball was stagnant. It was a big problem in the second half. I’m still skeptical to see if the Union can still compete when the games count the most.

    • The ref has until the next restart to go to video. That’s why the VAR will ask the ref to hold up the restart if he is still reviewing the play and might suggest the ref look at the video.
      The one exception is that if the VAR sees a missed straight red card situation, he can ask the ref to review that at any time and give the card then.

    • In addition to what Andy said about VAR, it doesn’t matter that Bedoya was protecting himself. (And note: I haven’t seen the play yet; I wasn’t able to make the game due to coaching commitments.) If his hands were away from his body and the ball struck his hand, it’s the right call.

      • It should matter that he got shoved in the back though. It was a terrible call from a consistently terrible ref. Especially since he went back to review.

      • It looked to me that they were up to his face trying t protect himself. I and i know many others have seen calls where A players hands are away from their body and they don’t get a call at all.

      • I think the standard is if the hands were in an “unnatural position” when the ball struck them.
        When I get shoved hard in the back towards someone that I am about to run into, putting my hands up to block that impact is the most natural position.
        I think it was a bad call and a bad instance of a ref inserting himself into a game that was otherwise well balanced, tipping the scale in the process.

    • Refs always have the ability to hold off on discipline on the field, as for an example when the advantage rule calls for them to allow play to proceed after an opposing player’s infraction. The use of VAR in this instance was a wrinkle but the old rule still applied. If the handball led to a Union advantage then the VAR official’s intervention likely would have led to earlier response on the field.

  6. Didn’t see a reply of the hand ball. So it sucks when VAR is used this way.the boys played a very good game. They really went toe to toe with the Pink Cows. The defense was stout,but the offence looks lost in final 3rd!

  7. As a way to feel a little bit better about yesterday’s woeful (lack of) showing on the score sheet, Red Bull leads MLS with the fewest goals conceded and the most shutouts. This is the best defending team in MLS.

  8. I was at the match, and I disagree with a few of the comments made above.

    1) The Union did a number of things very well, and effectively played toe-to-toe with the best in the league. But to say it was one of their best performances, and close to European football, makes me wonder if we were watching the same game. Because I saw a whole bunch of sloppy passing from our midfield, with both Dockal and Medunjanin having terrible matches.

    2) Sapong was given license to roam around the field rather than just stay on the wing; it was almost like a hybrid setup where he was a R winger on defense and a second forward on offense. I thought he actually looked rather good in that role and had a good game.

    The whole backline had a terrific match, including Rosenberry, who was playing more as a wing midfielder than a R back. BWP was held without a shot, which is the first time that’s happened since June of 2017. But when Dockal AND Medunjanin are off, this team will be hard-pressed to score.

    • I was afraid that Dockal was going to have an off night given the extensive travelling he did this week. Hopefully, he’ll have fresher legs next week.

    • Scottso, not trying to be a smartass here, just really want to see your point of view…What about CJ’s play did you like? For me he was to slow in making decisions. He did nothing with the ball at his feet but lay it off, and sometimes to the wrong person, i.e. he missed runs by other players that would have been a better pass. He’s like a post player that can’t score or create chances for others, so all he really does is defend and not extremely well. This is basically what I saw. So what were you seeing that you thought was good from him?

      • I think that’s fair. But what I saw in the stadium was that he was putting himself in good positions to receive passes instead of just being static, which was always his problem as a center forward. He was involved in the play a lot, moved into the center and into the box, in a way that wingers don’t always do. And he mixed it up well with the other incisive passers on the squad (and we have some very good ones now).

        I agree that sometimes he’s not making the best decisions with the ball. And just to be clear, he is not truly a solution in that position, and we need to upgrade next season.

      • Ok, admittedly I was not looking at his positioning/movement and was more focused on what he did with the ball at his feet. What you describe seeing is truly not what we have seen CJ do well before, so maybe I’m being to harsh on him.

  9. OneManWolfpack says:

    I think Haris is becoming a bit of a liability. I understand as constructed, there isn’t really another player you can bring in to replace him. But he is slow and when off, really doesn’t offer anything, especially defensively. He is a real hit or miss type guy. That said, I do think the Union played very well, and knew how to play against Red Bull team that high presses. It’s like they took what they were probably taught during the week and applied it. We can’t always say that is the case with this team.
    Excited to have an actual, meaningful match next weekend to determine playoff position, instead of just playing out what’s left.

    • I think Creavalle and Jones could easily replace him.

    • He has been a liability all year, IMHO. Now, what he’s really useful for is when opponents try to smother Dockal, you have another creative presence on the team who can spark the offense.

      But A) He’s not done enough of that this season; and B) His defense liabilities are considerable, especially the way the Union pay, where Rosenberry pushes up a ton and almost acts like a midfielder, and Medunjanin drops back between the CBs.

  10. Really disappointing. The boys looked very good. Oh well, the playoffs are going to be fun.

  11. John O'Donnell Jr says:

    Two games, two penalty shots, one missed, 1-0-1 this year. Beat them in a meaningful game in U.S.Open Cup. If we meet in the playoffs, I think it would be a fun two games and they have the monkey on their back when it comes to the playoffs.

    Every game to end the season has a bearing on the playoffs to make decision day quite important. Galaxy win and they’re in and the same with Columbus. If that happens, every team that makes the playoffs would have at least 50 points. I don’t know if that ever happened with a 12 team field but I do remember 45 being a thing.

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