It took seven attempts, but Supporters’ Shield holders New York Red Bulls finally got their first win by outfoxing the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on an unseasonably cold Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.
Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam gave the Red Bulls a two-goal cushion, but Sébastien Le Toux drew a goal back from the spot after Ibrahim Sekagya handled and procured a red card. The visitors, however, could not find the second goal required to deny the Red Bulls their first victory of the campaign.
Henry had summoned a flash of the fleeting magic with a bicycle kick in the goal mouth to start the night off properly inside the opening quarter of an hour, but he sliced it over. And the Red Bulls didn’t do much better with any of the subsequent chances they forged either. Eventually though, their savvy attacks became too much for the Union to repel.
In the 57th minute, Roy Miller reached the back of the Union box after a give-and-go with Eric Alexander set him free. He cut the ball back to the wide-open Henry, whose coverage had been neglected by Aaron Wheeler. And the Frenchman knew just what to do with that sort of chance, calmly dinking it into Zac MacMath’s nets to open the scoring.
Just five minutes later, Bradley Wright-Phillips had daftly wandered offside as Sam danced around the ball outside the box. Had he been a little more alert, the header he nodded into goal on the deft chip from his fellow Englishman may have counted.
But never mind that, the Red Bulls thought, because Alexander reached the back line again five minutes later and lifted the ball to back post where Sam headed it home. The goal-scorer was rewarded by nearby Tim Cahill with a thundering rugby tackle, which sent him crashing to the ground, and a peck on the face in celebration.
But the Red Bulls, being the Red Bulls, managed to find a way to make it hard on themselves. In the 78th minute, the Union’s Conor Casey pulled his shot off the near post on a quick breakaway. The rebound fell to his teammate Maurice Edu, whose effort was blocked by the sliding Sekagya’s arm. A plain penalty, which Le Toux slid just underneath the sprawling Luis Robles’s arms after Sekagya was ejected.
But the Red Bulls held on as the Union chased an equalizer. That meant that the Union have dropped their second game of the year and saw the momentum they had been building up lately stifled. As for the Red Bulls, the pressure abates for now. And upon reflection, their slow start leaves them with just a point less than they had at this stage last year, which they ended with the best regular season record.
Before the game, New York head coach Mike Petke refused to panic. And on Wednesday night’s evidence, he was probably right.