Philadelphia Union Draw NYCFC to Close 2021 Season in Second Place

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin at Subaru Park
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NEW YORK CITY, NY – The Philadelphia Union draw NYCFC away at Yankee Stadium to close the season in second place on decision day. Despite a faltering performance and failure to put away chances in the second, conceding an equalizer to a 10-man side, the Union clinched second in the east following a draw between Nashville and the New York Red Bulls.

Philadelphia Union draw NYCFC to get second place in the Eastern Conference

Ultimate pressure was off on decision day for a team already promised their playoff spot

Ultimate pressure was off this decision day for Philadelphia.  They took to New York already promised a playoff spot. Beyond a playoff berth ensured, Philadelphia traveled to Yankee Stadium secure in at minimum one playoff match on home turf. At-risk today away was finishing second in the Eastern Conference and the additional home-field playoff match that goes along with that prize.

Doing so would be no easy feat. Though NYCFC struggled to find solid footing this season, they’ve finished strong. They entered today’s match in fourth place and just three points behind Philadelphia. Beyond standings, NYCFC has always posed a formidable foe to their neighbors to the south in Philadelphia. The historical match-up leans in New York’s favor with nine wins for NYCFC, one draw, and five wins for the Union. With NYCFC still confined to playing their matches in Yankee Stadium, Philadelphia also faced their foe in a venue where they’ve never managed a win. Philadelphia’s best result playing away at Yankee Stadium is a draw in 2015.

And remarkably, Philadelphia has only won three times total this season playing away. Despite all that, they seemed in the first half to play like a team capable of turning that tide.

Jim Curtin rolls out a familiar line-up to start the match

To round out the season Jim Curtin rolled out a familiar formation and line-up to start the match. No surprises. Curtin doesn’t adjust much in his starting line-up. There would be no curveballs this time, and Curtin would rely on continuity to tackle decision day in the Bronx.

The first attempt of the match came by way of a set-piece in the 9th minute for NYCFC. Top scorer (18 this season) Castellanos sent one toward Blake on a header that just missed the net. Philadelphia, conceding possession to NYCFC for the brunt of the first fifteen minutes, got their first attempt off in the 17-minute. It came in a regular run of play but was a shot sent way wide off the foot of Daniel Gazdag. Gazdag’s shot was a harbinger of an offensive reckoning. Philadelphia quickly regained the possession and momentum dominated by NYCFC in the first fifteen minutes.

A huge turning point came in the 23-minute when Gedion Zelalem was sent off with a red card. The early sendoff reduced New York’s numbers to 10 men, giving Philadelphia a numerical advantage for the majority of the match.

The match begins to lean in favor of Philadelphia

Possession initially dominated by NYCFC began to lean in favor of Philadelphia immediately after the send-off. Chance creation began to lean in Philadelphia’s favor as well. Within minutes of Zelalem’s send-off, Kacper Przyblko put Philadelphia up by one, knocking one back from a close range of an assist from Leon Flach. The goal marked Kacper’s 12th goal of the season.

The final ten minutes plus five minutes extra time of the first half saw both sides fire a number of shots off. More chances were created and shots were taken from both teams in the final minutes of the half than the first 35 minutes combined. NYCFC’s three shots produced no result, with two missed entirely and the final attempt- a rocket from Castellanos – blocked by Andre Blake. Philadelphia’s four late shots split between 2 misses and 2 shots blocked by NYCFC goalkeeper and United States Men’s National Team player Sean Johnson.

NYCFC equalize off a Castellanos header at the start of the second half

Philadelphia took to the field in the second half with misguided aggression. They accrued a slew of fouls in the first ten minutes of play and provided multiple set pieces to NYCFC. NYCFC came back onto the field an entirely different team as well. Castellanos mirrored the run of play at the start of the first by getting the first shot off of the half for either side. The star threw another header toward Andre Blake, this time sending it in. Despite the numerical advantage on the field, NYCFC tied the match up at 1-1 off the header in the 53-minute.

Carrying forward the momentum, Castellanos found Jesus Medina in the box in the 60-minute. Medina sent the ball to the left corner, miraculously saved by Andre Blake. Blake, who hardly saw action in the first, was putting in work with a second-half starting off heavy in favor of New York.

Jim Curtin plays the “kids”

Always a man in favor of giving an opportunity to the “kids”, Jim Curtin sent Jack McGlynn and Paxten Aaronson to the rescue at the 66-minute mark. Aaronson in for Gazdag and McGlynn in for Flach. Curtin sent in his final sub at the 80-minute mark, sending in Corey Burke for Przbylko.

Philadelphia got numbers forward, progressed the ball well and created plenty of chances in the waning minutes. A knock around found Paxten Aaronson in the perfect position to notch his fourth goal of the season, but his attempt had no steam and went direct to Johnson in the net. Subsequent attempts from the attacking squad would prove as fruitful. The Union produced the chances but not the finish.

Philadelphia ends the season in second place but inspires no new confidence for their playoff run

Philadelphia entered the half with the momentum, the numerical advantage on the field, and up a goal off Kacper Pyzybylko’s 12th of the season. They came out of the tunnel a different team entirely, unable to finish or put away the chances they did create. NYCFC came out a different team entirely as well, playing with a convincing momentum uncharacteristic of a team down a man. Castellanos, one of the most threatening goal scorers in the league, punished a faltering Union early in the half, knocking a rare one past Andre Blake from which they didn’t recover.

Despite the draw – a disappointing performance considering the advantage – Philadelphia clinched second place in the east following a draw between Nashville and the Red Bulls.  They’ll enter the playoffs with two home playoff matches ensured. But their performance didn’t foretell a promise of making it far. With second place clinched, they’ll play their first playoff match at home against the New York Red Bulls. NYCFC will go on to play Atlanta, and Nashville will see about Orlando for their first match.

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