Led by a first-half goal from Kacper Przybylko and clutch saves from Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 1-1 draw at New York City FC on Decision Day.
Tempers were high for the home side as NYCFC looked to prove they could hang with one of the top clubs in the Eastern Conference. A Decision Day matchup in Yankee Stadium’s unique soccer conditions didn’t help with the tension in the opening minutes as Jose Martinez and Valentín Castellanos renewed their on-field rivalry. The Golden Boot leader went in with every stud showing but Martinez was able to leap out of the way.
As the teams adjusted to each other, NYCFC’s aggression crossed the line when Gedion Zelalem took out Leon Flach just outside the 18-yard box. After initially showing a yellow card, referee Guido Gonzales Jr. was asked to take look at the play once more and after consulting his VAR monitor, he sent off the NYCFC midfielder.
Moments after Jakob Glesnes was shown yellow for an aggressive but far less dangerous tackle, the Union took advantage of their extra man. Olivier Mbaizo raced up the right flank and sent a rocket across the NYC goal that looked destined for Kacper Przybylko’s foot. After it skipped to the back post, Flach chased it down and sent a quick pass to Przybylko, now wide open, for a tap in and a 1-0 lead.
The hosts looked to respond quickly but center back duo Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes kept their composure with timely blocks and toe pokes thatn only increased their opponent’s agitation.
As the first half moved into stoppage time, the Union almost turned nothing into something on the small Yankee Stadium pitch. Cutting down a home counterattack, Glesnes punted the ball to the other end of the field. Daniel Gazdag turned up the pressure on his defender and forced a weak pass that Przybylko jumped on near the end line. Facing a difficult, tight angle, the opportunity came to an end as Przybylko’s return pass could not reach Gazdag.
In the second half, the Union took their foot off the gas and paid an early price. After a half-clearance fell to Maxi Moralez on the right flank, the playmaker skimmed a cross to the far post where Castellanos flew highest to knock it back across the goalmouth and in.
The goal breathed life into the home side and they strode forward with purpose after winning the ball back. The Union sought to regroup and take back control of the center in transition. In the 57th minute, Bedoya’s interior support and workrate saw him break up a play then whirl out to the flank and start a break upfield. A cutback to Monteiro led to a whispered pass through to Przybylko in the box but Johnson flew out to cover.
In the 60th, Jesus Medina had a chance to threaten Blake inside the box but the Jamaican star was far too quick to be beaten.
Jim Curtin turned to his homegrowns to spark his side toward victory. Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn came into the crowded conditions and began poking around the top of NYC’s box.
Short on legs, NYC resorted to shooting from outside the box and Blake was untroubled.
In the final moments of regulation, substitute Cory Burke went up for a header and found the ball at his feet with enough time to poke it through the lines to Monteiro. Spinning to get the ball on frame, the attacker could only put a dribbler on Johnson’s net.
Philadelphia Union now turns its attention to the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs with a return to Subaru Park for a Round One battle against rival New York Red Bulls. Tickets for the contest can be purchased by clicking here. Date and time along with broadcast information for the Round One match will be announce by MLS in the near future.