John Tolkin (47) plays the ball against Philadelphia Union defender Nathan Harriel (26) during the first half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
By Michael Lewis
The confrontation between the two of the best teams in the MLS Eastern Conference lived up to its billing at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.
Well, at least for the first half.
The game was tight, physical intense and had the crowd in Harrison, N.J. cheering and booing, depending on the call.
As well as the Red Bulls played, they could not crack the nut called the Philadelphia Union, which put it up a gear and a half over the final 45 minutes walked out of the venerable soccer venue with a 2-0 victory and solidified its hold on the top spot in the 14-team division.
The Red Bulls finished with 10 men after midfielder Dru Yearwood was red carded in stoppage time for kicking the ball into the stands. The ball hit a fan. Yearwood jumped into the stands to apologize but he was shooed away by one fan.
As if anyone needed to be reminded, the Union demonstrated why it will be a team to be reckoned with in the postseason.
Philly, which has designs on winning the Supporters Shield, improved to 17-4-9 and 60 points. The Union took the lead in the Shield race as it leads LAFC (18-7-3, 57) by three points. LA, which has two games in hand, hosts Real Salt Lake on Sunday night.
Third-place New York (47), which wants to finish among the top four teams, dropped to 13-9-8, including a dismal 4-6-5 at home.
Mikael Uhre and Daniel Gazdag scored for the Union and goalkeeper Andre Blake was, well, Andre Blake. Translated: he was at the top of his form and frustrated the home side when push came to shove in front of his net.
The Red Bulls played one of their best halves of the season, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Well, at least in their column.
They did keep the juggernaut named the Union off the scoring sheet for the opening 45 minutes, which hasn’t been easy for teams to achieve in recent weeks.
The hosts had their best scoring opportunity of the half in the 23rd minute when Luquinhas was denied from point-blank range by goalkeeper Andre Blake.
The Red Bulls did an excellent job keeping Gazdag from attempting any problematic attempts.
Philly’s best chance of the half came in the 45th minute as Matt Real’s shot from distance sailed just wide left.
The next time the visitors took a dangerous shot, they made sure they didn’t miss.
That came three minutes into the second half off a neat passing play. B.W. Gottschee product Jack McGlynn foundUhre with a pass and he converted past goalkeeper Carlos Coronel from eight yards on the right side for a 1-0 lead.
The Red Bulls woke up after the goal and wen on the offensive. Whether it was the Union backline or Blake, they could not find the equalizer.
Blake was up to the task, denying midfielder Omir Fernandez twice from close range around the hour mark.
Coronel had his moment to shine when he stoned Alejandro Bedoya in the 69th minute.
The Red Bulls keeper, however, could not stop Gazdag from scoring his 18th goal in the 74th minute as the Philly striker culminated a nice quick counter to deposit the ball into the lower right corner for a two-goal lead and his team-record 18 goals of the campaign.
The way Philadelphia plays, a two-goal lead could be equal to a five-goal advantage.