HARRISON, N.J. — The Union delivered a tenacious defensive effort on Saturday night against Major League Soccer's hottest striker and one of its hottest teams.
Defenders Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie held Bradley Wright-Phillips to just three shots, and Andre Blake made four saves in a scoreless tie against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
New York entered the night with MLS' best points-per-game average, fueled by Wright-Phillips' offense and a high-pressure defense.
Wright-Phillips entered the weekend tied for the MLS scoring lead with eight goals. His ninth nearly came in the 32nd minute, but it was rightly called back for offside in the 32nd minute. And he got free in the game's final seconds, but shot over the crossbar.
Beyond that, the Union's 19-year-old centerbacks kept the Englishman quiet.
"The intensity that they play at, the speed of game, a young player's never going to be used to that," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "For them [Trusty and McKenzie] to both step up and handle it with confidence, winning tackles. … They're growing before our eyes, and they're impressing."
Trusty had five clearances and two interceptions. McKenzie had six interceptions, three clearances and a block, and played the last 63 minutes of the game with a yellow card.
Right back Keegan Rosenberry also contributed five clearances and two interceptions, and there were some notable collective efforts. A Red Bulls free kick just before halftime was snuffed out, as were two Red Bulls corner kicks in second-half stoppage time.
It felt for most of the night as if the traffic was in the Red Bulls' direction. But at the end, the shots were just 12-10 in New York's favor, and the possession percents were close to even.
The Union had a great early chance to score in the 18th minute, when Marcus Epps hit a curling shot that Tim Parker jumped to head out from near the goal line.
Seven minutes into the second half, the Union (4-5-3, 15 points) earned a penalty kick when Red Bulls (7-3-1, 22 points) defender Kemar Lawrence was whistled for a handball. But C.J. Sapong missed it, rolling a soft shot wide right after trying to fake goalkeeper Ryan Meara in the run-up.
All three of Curtin's substitutions were attackers for attackers, a signal he viewed the game as winnable. Ilsinho replaced Epps in the 64th, David Accam replaced Fafa Picault in the 70th, and Cory Burke replaced Sapong in the 82nd. Burke's entry was relatively late, but the Jamaican was able to rattle the Red Bulls' back line a few times.
"I wanted to be aggressive, and I thought the performance was good enough to chase a win at the end," Curtin said.
With four games to come between now and June 8, Burke is likely to get more playing time soon. If he can find the net again, as he did at Montreal two weeks go, he'll make a strong case to get even more playing time after that.