By Harry Allison
For the Union on Saturday night the scene was eerily reminiscent of other Saturdays at PPL Park:
A crowd of 18.883, the best August attendance in the franchise’s six-year history.
Yet another loss, this time to the rival New York Red Bulls.
The Union fought the Red Bulls for 90 minutes, but the bounces finally went New York’s way during a 3-1 Red Bulls win at PPL Park.
Scoreless for more than an hour, Red Bulls finally went ahead on a questionable play between two players making their respective MLS debuts. Union newcomer Tranquillo Barnetta was ruled to have taken down Shaun Wright-Phillips from behind after the diminutive midfielder looked to latch onto a pass from his brother, Bradley.
On the ensuing kick, Sacha Kljestan slotted home from the spot. It wasn’t the game-winner, but it certainly seemed to off-track the Union.
“We started the game very well I thought that it was a strong first half up to about the 65th minute and the penalty call happens,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “It’s a freak one where the guy is trying to stop and Tranquillo is trying to get out of the way, unfortunate because it was against us.”
Of course less than 10 minutes later, the Union would be rewarded for their hard work – only to have their hearts ripped out one final time.
In the 73rd minute Sebastien Le Toux latched on to a free ball inside the 6-yard box and blasted one past Robles that sent the sellout crowd into a mad frenzy. Cristian Maidana started the play for his 11th assist of the season (second in MLS behind Columbus’ Ethan Finlay with 12) by sending a cross into the box for Fernando Aristeguieta. His attempt sat in the middle of the box until Le Toux slammed it home.
But less than a minute later, Shaun Wright-Phillips dissected the Union defense before finding his brother, Bradley, for the eventual game-winner.
“It’s devastating obviously to give up a goal after you worked so hard to get your first to tie it up,” Curtin said. “It’s a mentality thing but the message we try to preach is to never get too low or too high in the run of the 90 minutes – we could have done a better job managing that. We’re always trying to make them play backward off the kickoff after you score a goal, but that didn’t happen.”
With the Union throwing everything forward, Red Bulls finished the game off in the final minute of extra time as Anatole Abang got in alone and beat Union keeper John McCarthy to make it 3-1.
Ultimately the Union outshot New York 17-9, but could only get three on target. Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles robbed Conor Casey of a sure goal in the 83rd minute – off another ball from Maidana – but besides that, the Union couldn’t direct much on target.
“New York is a good team,” Curtin said. “We didn’t take our chances very well tonight, a lot of opportunities for shots and we missed the target a bunch. It was a challenging part of the evening.”
With the loss, the Union fall to 6-13-4 and stay at 22 points. Red Bulls improved to 9-6-5 and now have 32 points – good for second in the Eastern Conference.