NEW YORK — The Union scored early and barely held on late in a 1-1 tie with New York City FC on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Combined with the New York Red Bulls’ 1-1 tie at Nashville SC, the Union ended the regular season in second place in the Eastern Conference.
Here are some observations on how it all unfolded.
The tie fits, barely
On the whole, the Union didn’t play a good game. They only outshot New York by an 11-10 margin even though they played nearly 70 minutes with a man advantage, after Gedion Zelalem was sent off midway through the first half for a studs-first tackle on Leon Flach.
Four minutes later, Kacper Przybylko opened the scoring with a tap-in that looked offside in real time, but the replay booth believed was fair.
At halftime, the Union knew that if they could keep the lead, the job would be done. Nashville and the Red Bulls had been tied since the 37th minute of their game, which meant a tie would also be enough.
Yet the moment didn’t feel stable. Maybe that was from knowing Nashville playing at home, or maybe from knowing the Union had never won at Yankee Stadium (and still never have). So it wasn’t surprising that the traffic was all in New York’s direction at the start of the second half.
City came close to scoring 50 seconds into the second half, and Valentín Castellanos finally got the Pigeons on the board with a superb header in the 53rd minute. It was his league-leading 19th goal of the year.
Not until the 57th did the Union really trouble New York’s half of the field, and not until the last 10 minutes of the first half did they put together a solid stretch of possession.
But the visitors did enough defensively, right down to a frenzied clearance of a New York free kick opportunity on the game’s final play.
Subs’ limited impact
Union manager Jim Curtin made a double substitution in the 65th minute, sending in Jack McGlynn for Flach and Paxten Aaronson for Dániel Gazdag.
It was a little surprising that McGlynn went in for Flach instead of Alejandro Bedoya, though Flach had taken a few hard hits in the game. But there was no doubt that the Union needed fresh legs, and the youthful energy — and possession skills — of the players who went in.
What the visitors really could have used, though, was a goal. And it rarely looked like it was coming, with a notable exception from a Jamiro Monteiro shot on a counter-attack in the 80th minute.
Cory Burke replaced Przybylko in the 82nd, hoping to give the Union a little extra push up front. But he rarely did. Aaronson offered the most of the substitute trio with a shot right before Burke entered that New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson easily saved.
Przybylko’s goal was his 16th of the season in all competitions, including 11 in regular-season MLS games. That makes it twice in three years that the Union’s top striker has hit double-digits in scoring. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that he played in all 40 of the Union’s games this year, 34 in the regular season and six in the Concacaf Champions League — starting all but five.
How it ended
Here are the Eastern and Western Conference playoff matchups. The exact dates and times of the playoff matchups are still to be determined, but we know the first round will take place from Nov. 20-23.
A reminder that total wins is the first standings tiebreaker, followed by goal difference.
1. New England Revolution (22-5-7, 73 points) — first-round bye for winning the conference, and home field advantage through the final for winning the Supporters’ Shield
4. New York City FC (14-11-9, 51 points) vs. 5. Atlanta United (13-9-12, 51 points, +8 goal difference)
3. Nashville SC (12-4-18, 54 points) vs 6. Orlando City (13-9-12, 51 points, +2 GD)
2. Union (14-8-12, 54 points) vs. 7. New York Red Bulls (13-12-9, 48 points)
1. Colorado Rapids (17-7-10) — first-round bye for winning the conference
4. Portland Timbers (17-13-4, 55 points) vs. 5. Minnesota United (13-11-10, 49 points)
3. Sporting Kansas City (17-10-7, 58 points) vs. 6. Vancouver Whitecaps (12-9-13, 49 points)
2. Seattle Sounders (17-8-9, 60 points) vs. 7. Real Salt Lake (14-14-6, 48 points)