Match recap: Union withstand New York press with solid defense en route to scoreless draw

Solid defensive efforts fuels first road point at Red Bull Arena

HARRISON, N.J. -- Just prior to Saturday’s kickoff, Union midfielder-forward Sebastien Le Toux was asked why his team just can’t get the best of rival New York inside Red Bull Arena. Before Saturday, the Union entered the soccer specific stadia in Harrison, N.J. looking to buck a trend of five matches all-time without earning a point.

Le Toux intimated that perhaps there was an undercurrent of fear among his team given some of the high powered names that adorn – and have adorned – New York’s roster.

But as a team on Saturday, there was no fear evident as the Union matched the Red Bulls intensity and withstood a wave offensive attacks en route to a scoreless 0-0 draw – but more importantly earning a crucial point that nestles the Union 10-7-8 (38 points) even closer to the top spot in MLS’ Eastern Conference. New York (11-8-6, 39 points) are now tied for the conference lead in points with Sporting Kansas City (11-7-6).

“[This game] does wonders for our team,” said goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who improved his season shutout mark to nine. The final stat sheet showed MacMath only made three saves, but it was in large part his tenacity and awareness to come off his line that fueled the Union's road drought against Red Bull coming to a commanding halt. “We know that we have about nine games left and if we can win all of our home games and get some points on the road, we’ll be in the playoffs and that for us is our main goal right now."

Watch: MacMath comes up big against New York's Espindola

While the sheet will also depict New York holding possession in this game, the stats can’t depict a Union team that looked sharp on the counter specifically in the second half when they brought it to New York goalkeeper Luis Robles. Perhaps no bigger moment arrived in this match then in the 73rd minute, when a quick touch and a perfect strike from just at the tip of New York’s 18-yard-box clanged of the crossbar.

Watch: Le Toux'missle of a shot crashes off the crossbar

Defensively, the Union were up to the task specifically center back Amobi Okugo, arguably one of the most consistent players in the Union’s starting XI. Okugo smartly kept Red Bulls main men Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill under wraps. Additionally, the Union looked sharp on clearing balls away from danger. On the flanks, Sheanon Williams and left back Fabinho caused fits and were a nuisance to a New York plan of attack that appeared to start out wide and pinch its way back in towards Henry and fellow forward Fabian Espindola.

“It kind of had a playoff feel, everyone was into it and everyone stepped up,” said Okugo, postgame. “Our midfield especially in [captain Brian Carroll] and Keon [Daniel]; we had chances in this game where we could have won, but we spent so much of it on the defensive a position everyone played well tonight that we can be quite pleased with coming in here and getting a point.”

VIEW: FULL MATCH STATISTICS

Next Saturday, the Union returns to action as they head north to take on the New England Revolution (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) one of the clear sleeper teams in the Eastern Conference before a return to PPL Park on Aug. 31 for a revenge match against Montreal (7:30 p.m.,  purchase tickets ).

“We’re a good team and I think we’ve played a bit of the underdog role for a lot of this season,” said MacMath. “But that’s okay, we’ll quietly take the points and hopefully at the end of the day achieve the goal we set out to do in the beginning of the season, which is to make the playoffs and be one of those teams competing for an MLS Cup.”

Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com