Six-and-a-half weeks into the season, the Supporters’ Shield holders have finally broken through. With second half goals from Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam, the New York Red Bulls handed the Philadelphia Union a 2-1 loss in Harrison, N.J., giving their best performance of the season in the process. If you were waiting for the 2013 Red Bulls to who up, wait no more.
Against a Union team coming off a strong weekend showing against Real Salt Lake, New York looked the better team in the opening minutes. At least, it was the more energetic, something that forced the Union to raise its level of play. Unlike its last road game two weeks ago in Chicago, the Union appeared up to the challenge, eventually creating a chance for Andrew Wenger that only a sprawling Luis Robles could keep out of goal.
For much of the first half, be it through Henry or Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York was generating the better chances, something that was rendered irrelevant when the teams reached intermission scorelesss. Early in the second half, however, two goals gave the home side control.
In the 57th minute, play down New York’s left saw Roy Miller beat Sebastian Le Toux to a pass into the left of the Philadelphia area. Though Amobi Okugo tried to prevent the Red Bulls left back from cutting his pass back to the middle, the Costa Rican international was able to find Henry, whose shot into the far side netting gave the home side a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, New York had its winner. On a chip sent just beyond the spot by left midfielder Eric Alexander, Sam headed home his first goal of the season, beating Zac MacMath inside the right post. Within an 11-minute span, the Red Bulls had gone from scoreless in the match and winless on the season to within sight of breaking their goose egg in the win column.
In the 78th minute, however, the events got more dramatic. After a ball sent off Robles’s right post by Conor Casey, Maurice Edu tried to put a shot under a diving Ibrahim Segaya. The defender’s extended right arm stopped the shot, earning a straight red card while paving the way for Sebastien Le Toux to equalize from the spot.
It was the last chance Philadelphia had in the match. Though New York was playing down a man, a combative final 14 minutes left Robles untested, allowing the Red Bulls to leave the ranks of the winless.
That group is down to four (Chicago, San Jose, Portland, Montréal) after a surprisingly strong performance, one that gave us reason to believe the worries about an aging New York may be overblown. We sounded those fears yesterday while saying the Red Bulls were playing worse than anybody else in the league, but Wednesday’s effort paints and new, more positive picture. Philadelphia didn’t play badly. New York just played better.
Don’t expect John Hackworth to be happy with that performance, though. After two weeks of recording multiple goals, the same problems with chance creation and finishing that helped define the Union’s first four games reappeared in New Jersey. And in the middle, a duo of Edu and Vincent Nogueira with help from three attacking midfielders should have had better control against Dax McCarty and Péguy Luyindula.
For the Union, it just seemed like a bad night – a performance on the road, against a motivated team, on short rest. For New York, however, the result could signal a turnaround. At a minimum, the Red Bulls have reason to be more confident going forward.