Two first half goals and ninety six minutes of high-octane defensive pressure led the way as Philadelphia Union showed the Eastern Conference how to deal with New York City’s dangerous attack on Yankee Stadium’s unique surface in a 2-0 win on Saturday afternoon
Alejandro Bedoya opened the scoring before Nate Harriel and Daniel Gazdag continued their excellent starts to the season by combining to double the lead.
Squaring off for the first time since the 2021 Eastern Conference Final, both sides came out of the gates on the front foot and generated quick chances. The first shot came from the hosts, as last year’s Golden Boot winner, Taty Castellanos, showing off his passing skills in the box to create an opportunity for Talles Magno. A hard cross from Maxi Morzlez found Castellanos, and the forward clicked it to his left and sent Talles Magno in on goal, but Andre Blake stayed close to the near post to end the chance.
With a rivalry emerging between the two of the top teams in the East, the match was chippy from the start and both squads made sure to cut down any 50/50 chances. Castellanos’ tackle on Leon Flach saw the Boys in Blue awarded a set piece chance in the 12th minute and they made the most of it.
Left back Kai Wagner pinged a perfectly weighted ball to the penalty spot where forward Julian Carranza timed his run to connect with a volley back across goal. The ball fell to the captain Alejandro Bedoya who rocketed it into the back of the net with a right-footed blast.
In the 28th minute the match nearly turned on its head as Sean Johnson sent a long blast for Santiago Rodríguez that sent the midfielder in on goal. What appeared at first to be a well-controlled touch got the midfielder past Blake before he went to ground, becoming entangled with Jack Elliott. Referee Ted Unkel went to his back pocket and showed the red card to the Union defender and pointed to the penalty spot. A VAR review two minutes later wiped away the whole play when it became clear that Rodríguez used his arm to gain possession early in the play.
As in Montreal, the Union made the most of the extra jolt of energy the moment of controversy provided. Employing a quick throw-in play, they quickly swung the attack from the left flank to the right as Bedoya went wide to find homegrown Nathan Harriel in stride. Making a run into the box down the right, the defender sent a hard, low ball across the NYC goal to Daniel Gazdag, who arrived at the far post to tap in a goal, his third in three matches.
Despite NYCFC’s two halftime changes – Heber and Nicolas Acevedo replaced Jasson and Keaton Parks – the second half began with the same energy as the first, and within the first minute Castellanos had gone in late on Blake during an aerial challenge.
With Heber up top, Talles Magno dropped into midfield to pull El Brujo further away from Maxi Moralez, but Philly kept a tight vertical shape and the playmaker was forced to drop ever-deeper to create.
Jim Curtin’s side came ready for a physical battle on a tight pitch, and each side showed a physical edge to cut out opponent counterattacks. Gazdag worked tirelessly to link the defense to attack, filling in under the strikers and ensuring the strikers could break out early and put pressure on the NYC center backs.
In the 63rd minute, Harriel showed his IQ by tucking into the goal frame on a corner and nodding a second ball off the line so Blake could collect.
Talles Magno’s size was the main tool NYC used to create pressure on Philly’s back line. The Union’s front six were too organized to allow any other route through.
The visitors’ willingness to cede possession and break frustrated NYC, and they showed little of their first half creativity when pushing up in wide areas. The combination play gave way to early crosses that Andre Blake easily collected.
After another weak ball in, tempers boiled over and Castellanos took an ill-advised step toward Blake. The short-tempered striker met solidarity and fearlessness from Philly as the full team rushed to separate their goalkeeper from the short-tempered striker.
Pushing and shoving paused the match before until Ted Unkel was able to separate the sides. Moments later, Moralez lowered his head to meet the ball and found Cory Burke running through the same space, resulting in a free kick from a dangerous position.
Following a yellow card on Castellanos, the Union had the best opportunity of the half in the 76th minute off a corner kick that slipped through the lines to find Jack Elliott at the back post. Even the long-legged defender, however, could not control the high, final bounce and redirect the ball into the net.
Quinn Sullivan stepped onto the pitch in the 78th minute as Santos departmed. Determined to keep the team’s energy high, Sullivan lined up alongside Burke but dropped into space to helpe link play up to the big Jamaican.
As the final moments of the match approached, Burke found himself one-on-one up the right and drove hard into the box, centering to empty space but showing once again how Curtin’s belief that his strikers could man-handle the NYC center backs was true. In the 93rd, Chris Gloster sent the ball in from the left in search of Heber, but the Brazilian nodded his chance wide of Blake’s far post. Castellanos had one final chance to give his side a crooked number on the board but the frustrated attacker skied an effort at the back post in the closing moments.
Philadelphia Union is back in action in early April due to the FIFA International break and will be back in front of the Union faithful when they host Charlotte FC at Subaru Park on Saturday, April 2nd. Kick off from Chester is set for 7:30 p.m. ET with tickets for the Eastern Conference battle available for purchase by clicking HERE.