Earning a point on the road in New Jersey against division rivals New York Red Bulls is typically a solid result for the Philadelphia Union.
But after going up 1-0 on a goal from Sergio Santos in the 17th minute, it felt like the Union’s stout defense would do the rest of the work to snap a winless road streak dating back to May 23.
A long free kick from Red Bulls goalkeeper Carlos Coronel that was allowed to bounce in the box changed all that and Omir Fernandez had one of the only moments of attacking brilliance (that counted) for either team when he fired a shot past Andre Blake in the 37th minute.
“We allow (the ball) to bounce and hit the ground in the box, which is a no-no in the red zone and then Olivier (Mbaizo) could maybe get a little tighter to the strong foot of the kid Fernandez and kid hits a good shot,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said post-game. “It’s kind of a goal from nothing.”
Unlike the Union snatching a draw late equalizer down 10 men off a Santos header the last time the teams met at Red Bull Arena in July, the second half didn’t have much by way of dangerous chances or drama beyond a flurry of yellow cards and whistles.
The atmosphere was also much quieter. Though the official attendance was listed as 9,1913, the crowd looked even more sparse.
“Usually a point on the road feels great but this one feels kind of empty,” Curtin said. “I challenged the guys at halftime to create their own atmosphere, obviously it was a quiet night here at Red Bull Arena…There was certainly intensity in the game but it was just kind of silent and felt like a typical dead kind of Wednesday game.”
The Red Bulls ended up outshooting the Union 13-5 (4-2 on target), but finished with an expected goals of 0.5 after the Union limited Atlanta United to 0.2 expected goals in their 1-0 shutout win. The Union had an xG of 1 and outside of Sergio’s goal off the corner kick that took a fortuitous bounce through traffic to Santos in front of the goal, the Union’s only real chances were two promising plays that were called offsides.
The first came off a lovely combination play between Santos and Przybylko that ended with a solid Coronel save on Jamiro Monteiro and the second was Santos and Pryzbylko combining again on the break. Both plays were tight and could’ve easily gone in either direction.
“Sergio was excellent tonight,” Curtin said. “He scored but all the other things that he did I thought he was very good.”
Given his form of late it’s hard to believe that was Santos’s first goal since August 4 against Toronto FC but his pace and physicality has been crucial over the past two starts since returning from injury. The four goals combined between him and Przybylko over the past three games have fueled the Union’s three-game unbeaten streak and have been made even more important with the injury to Cory Burke.
The Union’s unbeaten streak will be tested again this Sunday afternoon back home against the recently crowned Campeones Cup champions Columbus Crew. The game is just one of three home games remaining (out of eight) for a Union team that has eight of their 10 wins this season in Chester.