The MLS Game of the Week was the Philadelphia Union versus the New York Red Bulls during the week of July 16. It was a pivotal game in terms of the playoff race for Major League Soccer, with the Red Bulls sitting in fifth place and the Union sitting in seventh in the Eastern Conference. The top five teams make the playoffs from each conference, and with Philadelphia just four points behind and already an extra game played, it was a must-win game for them.
The Red Bulls came into the match on a five-game unbeaten streak, with three draws and two wins coming in those five games. The Union, on the other hand, had not won a home game in MLS regular season play since back in March against New England. Both teams were leading the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer in goal scoring. New York had 30 goals coming into the game and Philadelphia had 29. However, both teams struggle with stupid mistakes, often from poor giveaways, in the defensive and midfield thirds, which lead to many goals. The Red Bulls have allowed 27 goals this season and the Union have allowed 33 goals coming into this game.
The contest ended 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia with goals coming from Conor Casey, Fred, and Le Toux for the Union and Bradley Wright-Philips extending his goal-scoring form for the Red Bulls. It was his MLS leading 16th of the season. Thierry Henry assisted on the Red Bulls goal for his ninth of the season, which also is the league record.
Conor Casey opened the scoring in the ninth minute. He had plenty of room when he received the ball on the right side of the 18-yard box and then performed a great cut with his right foot to put the ball on his preferred left foot for an easy finish into the far post. Casey seems to always find a way to score against the Red Bulls. He had three goals last year against New York, and now has another this year. It was his ninth goal all-time against them. The Union is truly getting the most out the 32-year-old striker this year, as Casey has six goals in his last six games.
The team who scored first in this MLS series between New York and Philadelphia had gone on to win ten times out of eleven, with only exception being a 0-0 tie. The statistic turned out to be true yet again, as the Union went up early and never looked back. New York had a few opportunities in the first half, especially with Wright-Phillips having some great hold-up play, which was definitely something he did not do last season as effectively.
In the 26th minute, Tim Cahill finally got into the box for a header, but was called for a push-off after a great header to the lower left corner of the goal, which would have earned the Red Bulls a corner. Cahill was sitting back much too deep in midfield for large portions of the game, making the New York attack very predictable. They were unable to get the ball wide quickly enough, allowing the Philadelphia Union to stay compact and condense the areas between midfield and defense.
Maidana, who had the assist on the first goal, left the field injured in the first half and Fred came on in his place. Fred ended up having a positive impact on the MLS Game of the Week. He often found space between the lines of the defense and midfield, ultimately exploiting New York in the process. He got on the end of a beautifully assisted pass by Conor Casey in the 51st minute to extend the Philadelphia lead. Casey’s one-time pass to a streaking Fred was perfectly executed using a cruyff in mid-sprint. Fred then effortlessly slotted the ball into the lower right corner of the net to end the sublime sequence of play.
New York then quickly began using their superior possession positively. The Red Bulls ended up having more possession, 60 percent to 40 percent, than the Union, but could not do enough with it over the course of the game. In the 56th minute, Wright-Philips missed a glancing header just wide of the goal, with Llyod Sam supplying the left-footed cross. Just three minutes later, Bitolo, the left back for New York, played a long through ball over the top of the Union defense to Henry. The Frenchman made space for himself and set up Wright-Philips just inside the top of the box. Wright-Philips took one touch to settle the ball, and then curled a difficult shot to the lower right corner of the net, but the league leader in scoring made it look so simple as he has done so much this MLS season. The score was 2-1 and New York thought they could turn the game around.
In the 68th minute, just after New York had a goal called back for offsides, Philadelphia earned a questionable penalty when Eric Alexander was deemed to have pulled down Maurice Edu. Le Toux took the penalty kick and finished it with power. Robles guessed correctly, and got a hand on the shot, but it had too much power for the goalkeeper.
The Red Bulls responded quickly in the next few minutes, with a myriad of shots on the Union goal coming from Eric Alexander, Wright-Philips, Henry, and a diving header from Bitolo. However, New York could not find a way through the Philadelphia defense in the final twenty minutes of the game to make it a contest, and when the Union did get the ball, they were happy to pass the ball around.
Conor Casey, with one goal and one assist, was the man of the match according to Whoscored.com with an 8.6 rating. Henry was the best player on the pitch for the Red Bulls with a 7.7 rating. The New York Red Bulls now only lead the Philadelphia Union by one point, and a game in hand, after losing the MLS Game of the Week by a final score of 3-1.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash