Red Bulls take first in the East in Union slugfest

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by DAVE MARTINEZ

HARRISON, N.J. – If you were looking for a heavyweight battle between the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union, they did not disappoint.

A Dax McCarty header was the difference as the Union and Red Bulls went blow for blow in a contentious and competitive 3-2 New York victory. The win extends New York’s unbeaten run to 18 matches across all competitions. With D.C. beating Toronto, the Red Bulls also gained first place in the Eastern Conference, tied with New York City F.C. but ahead of them on the goal differential tie-breaker.

“For us, I think to get smacked in the mouth twice, right? I mean, to go down and then even when it seemed under control at 2-1, and for them to deliver another punch and for us to get stronger, right?” Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch said. “I think we got stronger as the game went on, we got better. We were more committed, more focused, more concentrated, and then it leads to us eventually getting the win.”

Fabian Herbers put Philadelphia ahead just 15 minutes into the match, thanks to a well placed but ultimately deflected shot that eked past Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. Mike Grella nearly tied the match in the 25 minute, but Union netminder Andre Blake beat the veteran on a clear 1v1 opportunity. Grella was denied again in the 44th minute, but New York broke through on the ensuing corner, with Sacha Kljestan finding the equalizer just short of the half.

Sloppy defending by the Union created an opportunity for the Red Bulls just two minutes into the second half. Bradley Wright-Phillips latched on to a Dax McCarty long ball, splitting the Union defenders and beating Blake to the far post. But nearly ten minutes later, Red Bull killer Chris Pontius knotted the match with a header past Robles.

Poor marking haunted the Union again in the 66 minute — and this one was the killer. Dax McCarty latched onto a dead ball from Kljestan to nod one past Blake for the lead. Robles preserved the lead with an amazing stop on a Pontius bicycle kick, killing off the Union’s last and best attempt on net.

“This team has character, this team has a lot of heart and a lot of pride. I think a lot of the talk the past couple of months has been our inability to hold onto leads and some of that talk has been fair but I think a lot of it, we don’t want that to define us for the season,” McCarty said. “We’re on a historical run right now and it almost feels like its kind of been insignificant because of the blown leads and I feel like, sure we should have some criticism and we should be upset about blowing some of those leads, but at the same time, we should feel really proud about what we’re doing with this club.”

New York head into the international break first in the Eastern Conference (14-9-9, 51 pts). They host Columbus on the 16 at Red Bull Arena.