HARRISON, N.J. — The Union played to a 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena. The Union’s Sergio Santos opened the scoring by jumping on a bouncing ball after a corner kick in the 17th minute, and Omir Fernandez equalized with an outstanding turn and blast past Andre Blake in the 37th.
Here are some observations on the game.
Santos’ 17th-minute goal was a just reward for the Union’s good play to start the game. It also served to highlight his significant improvement over the last few weeks.
The Brazilian has always had game-breaking speed, and over the last year has refined his shooting touch to become a reliable scorer. But he previously lacked the stamina to play a full game at a top level, and there were times when the Union (10-7-9, 39 points) needed him to put in a long shift.
In Santos’ last four starts, he has gone 90, 85, 90, 88, and 74 minutes. With Cory Burke set to be sidelined for what Union manager Jim Curtin called “a fairly significant amount of time,” Santos will be needed on the field for as much time as he can give.
Defense first, and then some
From the moment Curtin rolled out a defense-oriented starting lineup, it was pretty clear that the Union didn’t want to get caught in the kind of track-meet game they played on their last visit here. Curtin left Dániel Gazdag on the bench again, preferring to go with his often-trusted midfield quartet of José Andrés Martínez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jamiro Monteiro.
So it wasn’t especially surprising that the Union registered just three shots in the first half, and just one on target. But it naturally left the team a bit short of options after Fernandez’s goal.
Curtin didn’t make any subs until the 74th minute, when he sent in Gazdag and Paxten Aaronson for Santos and Bedoya. As with all of Gazdag’s previous games, this would have been a good one for him to score his first Union goal from open play. He didn’t come close, registering a meager three touches.
At the end of the night, the Union totaled only five shots, with just two on target.
Glesnes stands out
Jakob Glesnes’ strong performances in central defense are so common these days that they don’t always get the credit they deserve. So let’s highlight this one, because he played a big role all night: 11 recoveries, seven duels won, six clearances, two interceptions, and 30-of-45 passing, including 8-of-13 on long balls.
He capped his night off with a leaping headed clearance on a Red Bulls corner kick that was the last play of the game.
Blake’s three-save outing came at a big time in a few ways. One was that he put in the shift a few hours after the U.S. national team announced the squad that will line up against him in World Cup qualifying on Oct. 7 in Austin, Texas.
The second is that Blake’s grandmother died late last week. He dedicated Saturday’s win (in which he made two saves), to her, then had a busy game Wednesday — especially in the middle of the second half, when the Union’s defense was sagging and Curtin hadn’t made his subs yet.
“I knew she would have wanted me to be strong, so I’m trying to be as strong as possible for her,” Blake said. “She’s in a better place.”
It seems hard to believe given how much the Union struggled at Red Bull Arena for years, but the team hasn’t lost to the Red Bulls (8-11-7, 31 points) since Sept. 22, 2019. That’s a six-game unbeaten streak, with two 1-1 ties preceded by four straight wins — the first of which was the famed 4-3 win at Subaru Park in the 2019 playoffs.
The Union’s all-time record in road games against the Red Bulls is now 3-9-5, compared to 11-6-2 in home games in the series.