Saturday's sold out contest between the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union was billed as one of the most important MLS matches of the weekend. Separated by a point in the standings, either team could've moved into first place in the Eastern Conference and put some daylight between them and their closest rivals - so of course the game went to a 0-0 draw, New York's third of the year.
Neither team's offense managed to impress. Sure, there were a couple close calls: a great header from Fabian Espindola in the first half; a shot that rang off the crossbar from Sebastian Le Toux in the second. But largely, both defenses and goalkeepers put in a strong performance to keep the clean sheet. For the home side, Markus Holgersson was swung out to right back as Ibrahim Sekagya took over the centerback pairing with Jamison Olave. Luis Robles had a great fingertip save on Antoine Hoppenot to keep the clean sheet.
The tie marked the first time Philadelphia had ever earned a point in Harrison, and also pushed the Red Bulls into a first play with Sporting Kansas City, who have yet to play this weekend. The news of the standings came as a surprise to some of the team, with Tim Cahill responding to a media question about the team being in first place with a slightly perplexed "We are?!"
With a chance to widen the standings gone, the Red Bulls feel more pressure to take points off both conference cellar dwellers. New York travels to LA next weekend to take on Chivas USA, who have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, before returning home to take on worst-in-the-East rivals DC United at home to close the month.
Coach Mike Petke on the issues with the game plan: "I said it in the locker room, I take responsibility for the fact that we need to figure out when teams come and sit in, especially down the middle, clog the middle up, side-to-side, how to dissect that, how to get forward, instead of having two separate teams on the field, you know a forward line of four, five guys and a back line making lateral passes, and that’s on me. That’s definitely on me. I think the ball movement was a bit slow in the first half, I think our midfielders were trapping too deep to get it when they didn’t have to instead of giving our center backs, specifically Sekagya space to drive up with the ball. Our ball movement was a bit slow but yet again we got forward, we just couldn’t find the back of the net."
Luis Robles on his fingertip save: "Well when he cut across I felt comfortable with the angle so I just stayed as big as possible and luckily he didn’t hit it…he didn’t get it clean. And because he didn’t get it clean, I was able to react even though the distance was so close. I was able to react to that. My mindset going into this game, especially late when it was 0-0 and I didn’t have much activity I thought ‘they’re going to get one chance, they’re going to get two chances’ so I need to be ready for that."
Dax McCarty on the result: "It doesn't feel like a win. We absolutely are not happy with the result, at least I'm not. Any time you don't lose, it's positive, but you want to win your home games. We've kind of made this a very tough place to play, made it a bit of a fortress. At the end of the day, we're not happy with a draw at home. We played well enough to maybe win the game. I think Luis maybe had to make one or two saves, and it obviously hit the crossbar there in the end so that was a little bit scary. But for the most part, we just weren't dynamic enough in the final third."
Meanwhile, the New York Cosmos were handed the first loss since their rebirth, taking a 3-0 beating at the hands of the Carolina Railhawks.
The game was, perhaps, a bit of a reality check for the Cosmos aspirations. In advance of their return, the proclamation was that the Cosmos would play good soccer. Attacking soccer. Attractive soccer. But the realities of American soccer is that they tend towards the physical, and last nights' match was case in point: 43 fouls, 11 yellow cards, and 4 ejections. And while the Cosmos held the edge in possession and shots, holding the edge on the stat sheet does you no good if it doesn't get you a win.
Coach Gio Savarese acknowledged the physicality that he's seen as being necessary in the first few games of the fall NASL season. “We’re working on things week-to-week. The guys have done tremendously well the first two matches to look like they've been playing for many years. There are still many more matches to play.”
The Cosmos will get a chance to get back on the right foot at home; their next match will see them take on last-place San Antonio at Hofstra.