HARRISON, N.J. — The Union started Sunday on a high after results elsewhere Saturday night clinched the team’s first home playoff game since 2011. But there was nothing to celebrate in the game they played Sunday, a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. The Union were outshot 17-8 despite holding possession 60% of the time and didn’t look at all like a team that started the night eight points higher in the standings.
New York spent most of the game’s early stages dominating play. The Union couldn’t get a good chance of their own until the 17th minute.
By the half-hour mark, the Union (15-9-7, 52 points) had started to turn the momentum in their favor. But they threw it away in the 32nd minute when goalie Andre Blake committed a stunning error, spilling a simple low cross into the middle of the 18-yard box. Tom Barlow easily put it in the net.
Union manager Jim Curtin made his first substitution in the 54th minute, withdrawing an ineffective Brenden Aaronson from the left flank and sending in Sergio Santos. Red Bulls manager Chris Armas countered five minutes later by bringing star playmaker Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra off the bench, and at the same time, Ilsinho replaced Fafa Picault for the Union.
New York (14-13-5, 47 points) knew what Ilsinho’s arrival meant, not least because Ilsinho sparked the Union’s dramatic comeback win over them in Chester earlier this year. So it was no surprise that mere seconds after the Brazilian took the field, Marc Rzatkowski decked him. While Ilsinho was down, Armas brought his other big gun off the bench: striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.
All the moves produced barely any good scoring chances for the Union. In fact, there weren’t even all that many shots. Meanwhile, Marco Fabián — the kind of player who would fire from 20 yards when teammates would be more inclined to pass — stood with the unused substitutes by one of the corner flags.
Just as Fabián was starting to warm up, Mark McKenzie went down to the turf with a hamstring injury — his left, it looked like from afar — and slammed the grass in pain. His night was done. Was Fabián’s night thus done, too?
No, it turned out. Curtin rolled the dice and brought in Fabián for McKenzie, meaning the Union would play with three defenders. But that didn’t work out, either. Nothing did. Instead, Santos injured his right hamstring in the last minute. Seconds after that, Daniel Royer iced the game by finishing a breakaway that Wright-Phillips started.
When the final whistle blew, the Union had lost a game, Santos, and McKenzie — Curtin said they’re both likely out for a while — and second place to Atlanta United. They even lost a chance to gain ground on first-place New York City FC, which dropped points in a 1-1 tie at FC Dallas.
The home playoff game that will come next month feels a long way away.