Philadelphia Union ended the MLS regular season with two straight defeats following a 2-1 home loss to New York City FC on Sunday.
It might have been Decision Day in MLS, but almost all the decisions were already made heading into this one, NYCFC wrapping up the Eastern Conference title last week when Union lost to Columbus Crew.
This was all about momentum, though Union will have had eyes on second spot, needing to better Atlanta United’s result to achieve that feat on the final day.
They didn’t. The reigning MLS Cup champions claimed a home win over New England Revolution and Philadelphia suffered its second straight defeat despite a desperate late push after Marco Fabian’s penalty got his team back into the game.
The visitors taking a two-goal first-half lead through Ronald Matarrita and an Ismael Tajouri-Shradi goal which could well be changed to a Jamiro Monteiro own goal.
Union now head into the play-offs with very little momentum and sweating on the fitness of key men Alejandro Bedoya and Kacper Przybylko, who are both nursing injuries but likely to return to fitness over the course of the international break.
Philadelphia looked to have made a bright start to the game and might have been awarded a penalty after an early handball, but VAR decided it wasn’t enough for a spot-kick.
New York City FC dodged a bullet and made the most of it just three minutes latest when a fine move ended with Valentin Castellanos playing in Ronald Matarrita, who tucked the ball inside the near post.
Union were sluggish after conceding and failed to muster up a response to the NYCFC opener.
The visitors continued to dominate and were rewarded for their pressure with a huge slice of fortune.
In the 22nd minute, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi clipped a ball into the box only for Jamiro Monteiro to inadvertently head the ball into his own net.
The Eastern Conference winners might have had the game sewn up by half-time, but Union did show some fight before the break to remind NYCFC they were not home and dry just yet.
Andrew Wooten – in for Kacper Przybylko who picked up an injury in the warm-up – could have got Philadelphia back in the game with his header from close range, Sean Johnson making an excellent save.
And then Fafa Picault got to the byline before putting the ball across goal, Anton Tinnrholm scrambling clear off the line to ensure their lead remained at two heading into the break.
Philadelphia made a lively start to the second half, but their defensive frailties remained.
Castellanos was allowed a free volley on the far side of the box, forcing a save from Andre Blake within minutes of the restart.
Though, Union had a good chance of their own just after the hour mark, Haris Medunjanin playing a perfect through ball to Brenden Aaronson, but the young midfielder failed to find the target, missing the opportunity to celebrate his first USMNT call-up with a goal.
Seeking redemption, Aaronson returned the favour to carve out a chance for Medunjanin, playing a neat cross into the box, but the Bosnian was denied by Johnson in the NYCFC goal – either side of the keeper and it would have been game on.
Sean Johnson wasn’t in the mood to give up his shutout, however, and he was called on again with 15 minutes remaining when Andrew Wooten struck towards the bottom corner from range. Yet another fine save followed.
Union would get their goal eventually. Marco Fabian tucked away a penalty with just three minutes remaining after Jamiro Monteiro’s cross struck a hand in the box.
Jim Curtin’s men pressed desperately through five minutes of added time, but couldn’t find the desired equalizer.
It wasn’t to be for Union, who now head into the post-season with two straight defeats, but the feeling among fans won’t be altogether negative.
The late push saw Philadelphia put the Eastern Conference winners on the ropes here and without both Alejandro Bedoya and Kacper Przybylko.
This is no disaster and Union, with plenty of time to prepare, will still fancy their chances at home against New York Red Bulls, who spent their Decision Day losing 3-0 to Montreal Impact.
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