A thriller to the very last whistle saw the Philadelphia Union jump into first place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win over rivals New York City FC on Sunday evening.
Instead of a chapter, the 2-1 match could have its own book with an equalizing penalty kick to the visitors followed up by a 96th minute golazo from Jose Martinez and Cory Burke.
Playing on national television, the Union took the battle to New York City FC which set the tone between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Every pass and touch from the defending MLS Cup Champions quickly saw a member of the Union pressing in hopes of sparking a counter attack. The pressure was key in the first 10 minutes with homegrown Nathan Harriel making a key tackle on Talles Magno in the fourth minute to shutdown a visitor attack.
Head Coach Jim Curtin said in his midweek press conference that the squad spent time working on chemisty and it was on display with Mikael Uhre and Daniel Gazdag reading the same situation to spark an attack. The Hungarian midfielder drifted inside before launching a threaded ball between a pair of NYCFC defenders that broke Uhre free. With just the keeper the beat the play was called offside but showed that two duo were in sync.
Uhre’s speed and pressure sent Subaru Park into a frenzy with a 1-0 lead just nine minutes after the opening whistle. Jack Elliott got things off and running with an interception followed by a long ball over the midfield, NYCFC and right into the pass of Alejandro Bedoya. The Union captain chased it and before hitting the end line and rifled a laser into the NYCFC box. Uhre battled hip to hip with NYCFC center back Alexander Callens but won the battle for the ball, getting a toe on the cross to had the keeper beat.
Philly didn’t sit back on with the one-goal advantage and pushed for another only to be denied by a trio of clutch saves from U.S. Men’s National Team keeper Sean Johnson. Uhre nearly doubled his personal stat line, redirecting another cross from the captain that somehow didn’t end up in the back of the net.
A few moments later it was Elliott who had a chance to double the lead in the 18th, firing on target a cross from Kai Wagner that was tipped over the bar. Just half the half hour mark, Gazdag had some flair moves that set up a golden chance. Looking to volley the defense, the midfielder had a go and collected his own pass to get into the box. With a defender blocking the frame, he laid it off for Julian Carranza in the 30th minute but the Argentinian right-footed blast was stopped too.
The second half kicked off with NYCFC controlling the majority of the offensive possession. Philly sought to keep the defending champs offensive pinned to the flanks with a flat 4-3-1-2. Relying on constant communication and movement as NYC pinged the ball side to side, the Union stood strong and looked to spring a counter when the opportunity presented itself.
Homegrown Nathan Harriel stayed step for step with the pacy Magno. Jakob Glesnes and Elliott frustrated last season’s Golden Boot winner, holding the striker to just 19 touches through 80 minutes.
With the counter attack the preferred path, the Union nearly sprung Uhre after a long spell on defense. Elliott flicked a header from the Union’s 18 into the midfielder that Gazdag punted forward. Falling with Carranza, the forward quickly saw the open field in front of Uhre and attempted the hard pass. The pass hit its target but with too much power ending the potential breakaway.
Curtin brought fresh legs atop the formation in the 66th minute with the injection of Cory Burke alongside Carranza. With a target man for the long balls from the backline, Burke endured the constant pressure from the NYC defense but stood strong.
In the 74th minute, NYCFC went all in for a possible equalizer, putting nine around the Union goal. Volley after volley, the Union stood compact and saw out a goal kick.
With nearly 10 minutes remaining in the contest, the Eastern Conference affair showed off its rivalry with tensions hitting a high. Three yellow cards would be shown by the referee after some both sides exchanged pleasantries.
The match continued its edge as NYC pressed for the tying goal. Anton Tinnerholm gave the visitors the chance it needed, chasing down a ball before it reached that endline and fired it off Wagner. Called a corner for the visitors, a discussion from the referees awarded NYC a shot from the penalty spot for a handball. Locked down all night, Castellanos was provided the opportunity and converted with a shot to his right.
Just when the match seemed destined to be deadlocked, it added another thrill. After nearly scoring off the kick off, the Union didn’t say die and found a winner in the 96th. Off a long throw in, NYCFC attempted a clearance that bounced right to Jose Martinez. With the referee on the verge of blowing his whistle, El Brujo fired off a shot that had some magic as it glanced off Burke and snuck pass the keeper.
Union fans rejoiced only to see the referee raise his hand and call offsides on the play. A quick point of his ear and look at the replay monitor and the goal was good.
Philadelphia Union continues a busy stretch of its summer schedule as they hit the road for the first and only time of June take on the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, June 29th. Kick off from Soldier Field is set for 8 p.m. ET for the midweek contest with coverage locally on PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.