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An errant back pass, a failed Cruyff, and a straight red

On the play that changed the Philadelphia Union’s game against the New York Red Bulls



Though the furious rain and winds from Tropical Storm Elsa had cleared, the Philadelphia Union created a storm of their own Thursday night against the New York Red Bulls, wreaking havoc on an otherwise even game until Sergio Santos’ heroics salvaged a point on the road. Outplayed by their rivals to the north throughout much of the first half, the Union opened the second with several quality chances and fired a warning shot when Jakob Glenes ripped a free kick off the end of the wall.

Seconds later, the unthinkable happened.

Backtracking a long clearance following the Union’s attempt to keep the blocked free kick alive at the other end, the Norwegian defender played a lazy ball back to Matt Freese that died in the grass and forced Freese into a precarious position. Freese complicated the situation by failing to drive the ball out of danger. Instead, his attempted Cryuff was cut off by Red Bull midfielder Wiki Carmona, causing Freese to grab Carmona’s waist to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity, which led to his certain dismissal.

Even as the Union appeared to have a grip on the game, Union fans were still incensed by the. cheap shot by Dru Yearwood at the end of the first half on Jamiro Monteiro that received a closer look from VAR yet was still ruled a yellow card. The two fouls were debatable due the contrast of aggression displayed by each offender but incomparable considering the situational placement on the field.

What transpired next was foreseeable. Joe Bendik came on to stop the penalty with Daniel Gazdag exiting, who had been the Union’s most threatening attacking player. Patryk Klimala buried the PK. And after conceding the goal, the Union fell into a 4-4-1 formation with Kacper Przybylko high.

Up until then, Przybylko’s presence in the game may have been as suspect as the parking outside Red Bull Arena, and with fewer attacking options due to the loss of Cory Burke to the Gold Cup and Anthony Fontana to injury, the hope for an equalizer fell on the back of Sergio Santos. Fortunately for the Union, Santos entered twenty minutes from stoppage and salvaged a point after he nodded home Olivier Mbaizo’s cross in the 85th minute, a result the Union deserved prior to the red card.

It’s easy to label blame after a disaster, but what caused the red card? Glesnes’s pass? Freese’s decision-making? Both? What could also be concerning is how the entire sequence stemmed from a Union free kick outside the Red Bull’s box when Union fans had visions of another Glesnes golazo.

Here’s a closer look at the breakdown that lead to the Union’s self-inflicted temporary demise.

Partial blame has to be attributed to Glesnes at the least. When he received the ball facing his own goal, he failed to consider his own movement, the angle of the pass, the support, and the defender. Carmona closed the gap from a midfield sprint and was the only defender within thirty yards, but Glesnes did no favors for his 22-year-old goalkeeper with one MLS start under his belt. Though Freese is an accomplished youth and college player with a rising pedigree, his only action for the Union came against New England last November.

A majority of the blame will fall on Freese as he set up inside the frame of the goal rather than outside of the goal, inviting a pass across the goalmouth, which is dangerous to begin with. A harder ball and he’d have been able to touch it to his right and clear it away. But with Glesnes drifting away from goal and the Carmona on his inside shoulder, Freese needed to demand that pass outside of the frame where Glesnes could body Carmona off so he could bury it into the stands. Unfortunately for Freese, he had the game’s best save early in the game when he denied Klimala from point-blank range.

The pass from Glesnes was soft and careless, and Freese mishandled the situation, attempting to cut the ball back into pressure rather than booting it away or taking a first touch where could use his giant frame to shield before clearing. So both players are at fault, but if we want to slice it up, we could call it 60-40 on Freese. A difficult situation for a young keeper filling in for Andre Blake while he’s away at the Concacaf Gold Cup.

Union coach Jim Curtin was quick to support Freese after the game. “The position of goalkeeper is cruel,” he said. After citing Freese’s preparation heading into the game and his age in comparison to the average age of top keepers he added, “It’s an unfortunate play, but this will be a part of his growth and development.”

Freese will miss the next match against D.C. United at home on July 17, which means Joe Bendik will likely face the squad that dismantled Toronto FC last week 7-1 and ended Chris Armas’ short tenure with Toronto. Bendik has seen his share of action over his twelve-year career, appearing in over 300 MLS games. Union fans will remember his shaky outing against Columbus last November but hope his experience will lead the club back to its winning ways from before the international break.

Greg Oldfield is a teacher, coach, and writer from the Philadelphia area. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Barrelhouse, Maudlin House, Carve, and the Under Review, among others. He also writes for the Florida Cup and Florida Citrus Sports. In 2023, he received an award for Best Column from the United Soccer Coaches for his story "A Philadelphia Soccer Hollywood Story." His work can also be found at

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