Union suffer costly loss to Red Bulls
business end of the season will do for you, leaving the Union with three wins in 13 games since early July.
The Red Bulls (14-9-9, 51 points), who re-ascend the Eastern summit, are unbeaten in 14 MLS games (7-0-7) and 18 in all competitions.
Kljestan and McCarty both had a goal and an assist to power the victory, while Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his MLS-leadtying 21st goal.
Even if the marginallyfilled Red Bull Arena didn’t indicate it, Saturday’s affair was as close to playoff intensity as the Union have experienced in some time. And they were found wanting in key moments against the battle-hardened hosts.
“That was playoff atmosphere right there,” said Chris Pontius, who continued his stellar season with a goal and an assist. “That was the pace of what a playoff game is going to look like. I think we knew that going in, I don’t think the guys shied away from that.”
However vigorously they approached the challenge, they didn’t do enough to pass the test. The most glaring shortcoming was a pair of set-piece goals, including the headed gamewinner by the 5-foot-9 McCarty, skying to turn Kljestan’s free-kick delivery into his MLS-best 17th assist of the year.
For whatever other playoff-caliber traits the Union showcased, such letdowns illustrated the distance they still need to cover to achieve an increasingly tenuous grasp on a playoff spot.
“I guess you guys can kind of say that that’s a playoff-type game or whatever,” Alejandro Bedoya said. “But in an arena with the fans behind the Red Bulls like that driving up the atmosphere, it makes for an intense game. … I think we gave away too many soft goals. Two goals on set pieces, that’s inexcusable, so we have to do better.”
On the one hand, the Union were dealt difficult blows with Josh Yaro and Bedoya leaving early due to injuries. Yaro was stretchered off in the 30th minute after a scary collision and evaluated for a suspected concussion, which could be his second in two weeks. But he was talking with teammates in the locker room after the game. Bedoya made way in the 51st with a rib injury he said has persisted all week and could cast doubt on a call-up to the U.S. National Team, which would be announced Sunday.
That dampened the momentum of Fabian Herbers’s 15th-minute goal, a side-footed shot from the top of the 18-yard area that slithered through goalie Luis Robles’s hands.
After Yaro’s departure, the Red Bulls pushed hard for an equalizer and were rewarded before halftime, Kljestan going for placement over power on a dragback pass from Felipe off a short corner. Andre Blake (five saves) had turned away two earlier efforts from Mike Grella with superb saves.
The Red Bulls took the lead two minutes after the break, with a long ball from McCarty catching the backline flat-footed and allowing Wright-Phillips to one-time a bouncing ball into the side-netting.
Pontius, who assisted on Herbers’s tally, tied a career-high with his 12th goal, in the 55th, nodding in a long Fabinho cross.
That should’ve been enough, but the Red Bulls had other ideas.
“We still managed to get two goals on the road, and if you get two goals on the road, you should be either coming out with a tie or a win,” said Pontius, who saw a bicycle kick beaten down by Robles in the 83rd. “We’ve just got to shut things down defensively.”
What the Union have to do now, clearly articulated by Curtin, is get a result. They have two home games remaining to close out the season after next week’s international break. And results in those went from preferred to mandatory.
“It’s clear what we need to do: We need to win a soccer game,” the coach said. “We have two at home, against Orlando and this New York team. Both teams are good. There’s no easy points in our league.”