Twice within a short span of four days, the New York Red Bulls hosted and bested the expansion Philadelphia Union by the same scores of 2-1. Both games were held at New York’s Red Bull Arena, with the first being an official MLS regular season match and the 2nd representing a play-in to the U.S. Open Cup tournament.
In the first match, the Union 11 again came out fast, as has been their habit in these early games of the franchise’ history. They took the action to the Red Bull end, but couldn’t bury the ball in the net, and then as the pace became more even the two clubs battled into a 0-0 tie at half.
As has also been the case, they again found themselves behind by a goal on the road when New York scored on a header just five minutes into the 2nd half. The Union continued to plug away, and just moments later they got the equalizer in a familiar fashion. Alejandro Moreno broke free in the Bulls end, slid a pass along the ground towards the goal, and a streaking Sebastien LeToux (pictured) tapped it in for his 4th goal to tie the score at 1-1.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Union downfall also came along in familiar fashion. A handball in their own end resulted in a penalty kick for the Red Bull’s Juan Pablo Angel, who buried the shot to put New York on top 2-1. The Union were unable to get the equalizer, and thus dropped their 2nd straight road match thanks to a 2nd half penalty kick goal. The loss leaves the club with a 1-3-0 record in the early season.
Four days later, the Union headed back to New York for the Open Cup qualifier. The U.S. Open Cup tournament is the oldest soccer tournament in the States. It is open to any team that is affiliated with U.S. Soccer at the professional or amateur levels. Held annually since 1914, the Cup began to include pro teams such as those from MLS in 1995.
The tournament organizers matched Philadelphia and New York in this play-in match, part of a process that would lead to a final 16 teams who would ultimately compete in the official U.S. Open Cup tournament. The winner of this qualifier match would move on to face the New England Revolution of MLS, and the winner of that match would advance into the actual tournament.
So back to Red Bull Arena it was for the Union and coach Peter Nowak. When asked whether he would treat this as an exhibition and play his bench or reserve players, or if he would use most of his regulars, Nowak replied: “Is there a trophy? Then we’ll play the best players!” Clearly, Nowak is desirous of beginning a winning tradition as quickly as possible.
Connor Ching put the Red Bulls on top in the early minutes of the match, knocking his own rebound past Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz for a 1-0 New York advantage. Then just minutes before halftime, Ching took a beautiful crossing pass and drilled a shot past Seitz to put the home club up by a 2-0 score.
For the 2nd half, Nowak inserted the club’s leading scorer, Sebastien LeToux, into the match. It would prove to be initially ingenius but ultimately devastasting. LeToux quickly got the Union back into the game when he took a crossing pass from Cristian Arrieta and slid it into the net to pull the Union within 2-1 in the 68th minute.
That was the initially genius part. The Union continued to press for the equalizer, but with about 8 minutes left to play, LeToux suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and had to be carried off the pitch. Having already used up all their substitutions, the Union were forced to play short a man. Despite this disadvantage they continued to take the play to New York, but were ultimately unable to knot the score, falling by that 2-1 margin for the 2nd straight match to the Red Bulls.
The Union have shown a ton of ability in their early matches, and the youngest club in the MLS looks like the will be competitive in most of their matches. It will help them to get some more home matches as the MLS schedule moves along. However, they will need to find the leadership and intelligence to avoid the big mistakes at key late moments if they are to truly turn the record around in their first season.