The Philadelphia Union have a chance to clinch a first-round playoff home game Sunday night when they face a New York Red Bulls squad looking to strengthen their own hold on a postseason spot.
The Union (15-7-8) are locked in a struggle with defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United for second, leading the Five Stripes by one point with four matches remaining, and are five back of Eastern Conference front-runner New York City FC. A victory over the Red Bulls (13-5-13) would give them 55 points, an insurmountable total for fourth-place Toronto FC, which moved to 46 points after drawing LAFC.
Philadelphia is unbeaten in its last three and taken 13 points from six matches (4-1-1) after playing Los Angeles FC to a 1-1 draw Sept. 14. Kacper Przybylko staked the Union to a third-minute lead with his team-best 14th goal, but the likely Supporters’ Shield winners drew level just before halftime through MLS Golden Boot leader Carlos Vela.
Despite Vela scoring his 28th goal, Union coach Jim Curtin singled out his left back Kai Wagner for doing a credible job keeping the Mexico international from being a bigger influence on the contest.
“I thought Kai was incredible on the night in terms of forward defending, being physical with (Vela) at the right moments, not going in when he cuts the ball,” Curtin told ProSoccer USA. “When he gets you in the box, you’re always holding your breath because he can draw penalties just because he is so deceptive in there. Kai showed that he a top left back in the league. For my money, the top left back.”
Przybylko kept up his scintillating goal-scoring form, running his personal streak to three matches while also netting his fifth in Philadelphia’s last six league contests. He also has tallied six times in 10 road games for the Union.
New York is seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since May 25-June 1 after a hard-earned 2-0 victory at Portland on Wednesday night. Kyle Duncan provided an early lead when he raced in unmarked to slam home a cross from Josh Sims in the third minute for his first MLS goal, and Daniel Royer secured the three points with a penalty in second-half stoppage time.
It was the first time the Red Bulls recorded a clean sheet in seven matches, and Duncan’s goal justified embattled coach Chris Armas’ decision to include him in the first XI for the first time since July 7 in addition to being part of the back four contributing to the clean sheet.
“I’m proud of the way the team went after it,” Armas told the club’s official website. “I think what we saw tonight was a team that believes in what we’re doing. Fourteen good performances in an amazing team effort.”
Royer has a team-leading 13 goals in all competitions, and the Red Bulls are 6-2-1 when he finds the back of the net in league play.
Philadelphia is going for the season double after rallying to beat New York 3-2 at home on June 8. Curtin’s introduction of Ilsinho as a second-half substitute turned the match on its head as the Brazilian set up a goal by Jamiro Monteiro on the hour before scoring the equalizer in the next minute.
Ilsinho then scored the decisive goal in the 72nd minute when he was first to the rebound of a stopped penalty taken by Monteiro, slotting it inside the left post.
Philadelphia has battled New York to draws in their last three visits to Red Bull Arena but have just one win in their last 13 road matches with the Red Bulls (1-5-7) in all competitions.
(Ilsinho photo courtesy Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)