Though the Union’s first home game of the year had only one goal, it had more than enough entertainment to make viewers at home forget that it took place behind closed doors at Subaru Park.
Kacper Przybylko delivered the 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls with a goal in the 31st minute, his first tally in five games. Ray Gaddis set it up with a sharp cross from the right wing, and Przybylko met it just inside the six-yard line with a thumping finish. His relief afterward was as pronounced as the shot.
“I get it. Everyone should expect, must expect that,” Przybylko said. “I scored a lot of goals last season. But I’m always hungry. So today was finally the day I scored again.”
Though the stands were officially empty, the Union welcomed 23 fans into the stadium. Twenty of them were local front line workers who were honored for their efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Two stood atop the River End stands, unveiling a banner as the teams took the field and turning on a smoke machine when Przybylko scored. The last of them was in the audiovisual control room, controlling the artificial crowd noise heard on the local TV broadcast.
Outside the gates, a small group of fans gathered behind the River End to watch the game on a TV. Unlike the Phandemic Krew at Phillies games, this group’s inspiration, they couldn’t see into the stadium or be seen from inside. Their singing and drumming was audible, but only faintly — sounding as much like an echo from the past as a wish for a better present.
Meanwhile, the presence of those who made greater sacrifices reminded all present of why things are as they are, on a day when Delaware County recorded its 769th coronavirus-related death out of Pennsylvania’s 7,663.
New York nearly equalized in the 45th minute, but Przybylko made a goal-line clearance of Tim Parker’s header. The Union (3-1-3, 12 points) nearly doubled their lead in stoppage time, but New York goalkeeper Ryan Meara dove low to deny Przybylko after Jamiro Monteiro’s corner kick pinged around a crowd.
Red Bulls manager Chris Armas signaled how annoyed he was with his team’s first-half performance by making two halftime substitutions in midfield. Tom Barlow replaced Brian White, and star playmaker Alejandro “Kakú” Romero Gamarra replaced Jared Stroud.
The moves made New York (3-3-1, 10 points) much livelier, and Blake was called on to make saves in the 53rd and 60th minutes.
Jim Curtin started making moves in the 58th minute, replacing Andrew Wooten — who made his first start of the year — with Sergio Santos. The Brazilian should have scored in the 67th minute after taking a feed from Aaronson, but he shot straight at Meara from a wide-open position. Przybylko had another fine look a minute later, again set up by Aaronson, but he shot high after spinning past a defender.
Armas made another double-sub in the 73rd minute, sending in Florian Valot for Daniel Royer and Mathias Jørgensen for Sean Davis. Curtin responded with two moves of his own: Jack Elliott for Jakob Glesnes and Ilsinho for Brenden Aaronson.
The last Union substitution came in the 78th, Warren Creavalle replacing José Andrés Martínez after he ran out of gas. Seconds later, Kai Wagner put a cross on a dime for Santos, but his header floated wide — and that same head fell toward his hands in disbelief.
Armas made his last roll of the dice at that point, sending in Omir Fernandez for Marc Rzatkowski at forward. The game was wide open from then on through four minutes of second-half stoppage time. Przybylko helped pass the closing moments with a smart run to the corner, where he stood over the ball and dared Red Bulls players to either take it or shove him. They tried the former for a while, then gave up and resorted to the latter.
New York got one last good chance in the 94th minute with a free kick from out wide on the right. Kakú swung in a good service, but Blake punched it, Creavalle cleared it, and referee Rubiel Vazquez blew the final whistle.
“I like 1-0 wins. That means we were organized. We were tough to play through,” Curtin said. “We miss the fans. The game feels a bit soul-less without them in the building. But I think we put in a good effort against a Red Bulls team that, look, our fans don’t like, but they tend to bring out the best in us.”