|An early chance for the Red Bulls. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union played to a scoreless draw on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls earned a point, and it was their fourth tie in a row starting with a 1-1 draw against NYCFC on August 25, followed by ties in Dallas and Chicago.
They now hold the sixth and final playoff spot with 42 points (12-6-10), just one point behind Atlanta United (43 points, 12-7-8). Atlanta tied Orlando City 3-3 in their game on Saturday. Columbus is in fourth place with 44 points (13-5-12).
NYCFC played to a 1-1 draw in Colorado against the Rapids on Saturday night. NYCFC now has 51 points (15-6-8), and are firmly in second place, three points ahead of the Chicago Fire (48 points, 14-6-9), but now a nearly insurmountable 11 points behind Toronto, who have 62 points (18-8-3).
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch went with a different lineup in this one, with Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips on the bench at the start, as they want to go into the US Open Cup Final on Wednesday in Kansas City with a fresh lineup.
That did not stop their offense from getting big chances, as Derek Etienne fired a rocket from 30 yards out that Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake flicked away with his right hand in the 26th minute, and Gonzalo Veron had a big chance in the 32nd minute.
Kljestan and Wright-Phillips came on early in the second half, and they made their impact felt.
In the 77th minute, Kljestan had a free kick from the right side, and got a shot in, which rebounded to Wright-Phillips, who also got a shot off, and it was saved by Blake.
A minute later, Kljestan got a corner, but it was kicked aside by the Union defense.
Kljestan would get another corner in the 91st, and got it right into the center of the box, but Blake leaped above the fray to grab it.
By the end, it felt like there was a Union player down every minute to stall and preserve the tie.
It got so bad at one point that Philadelphia's Fabinho just fell down to get a stop in play, and the ball ended up by Marsch, who started dribbling it like a basketball as he watched the spectacle.
Marsch said of the balancing act of who to play and rest in this one, and getting a draw in this one, "You're looking at which players have the best ability to recover. You're looking at how to get the balance of the team right, how to rotate guys on the week so that the team is still going to look the way we want, but also to give certain guys a break to make sure that on Wednesday we're fresh.
"The game would have helped a lot by an earlier goal or a lead, and then, you know, maybe we could have put the nail in the coffin. But Philly hangs on, makes it difficult and sometimes we've had these games at home where we're just a little bit unlucky. I thought we played really well. Thought we had a lot of good performances. Thought we were really unlucky not to get the three points.
"We go through a period in the season where we don't tie any games and now we feel like we tie every game. But right now the focus is about moving forward. So you know, everything right now, like we talked on the field is switching our head to fully get ready to Wednesday."
Marsch said of Etienne, who had that big chance in the first half, and the progress he has made, "Listen, we know Derrick is talented, so I've challenged him to now be a little clearer as to what it really takes to be a real pro, to be a full-time, regular professional who understands what games are about and understands how to train hard every day and what the mentality is. You know, he's still young and he's still not just young in age but he needs to grow up. He needs to mature a little bit.
"But I think you're right. I think today was a big step forward for him, and to see him I think play quite well, meet the standards of the game, tactically fit into the game, I thought overall was really good. So a good performance from him and really a good performance from a lot of guys."
Marsch said of their recent run of ties and missing Daniel Royer in this lineup since he got hurt on August 6 at NYCFC, "Okay. We missed Danny, no doubt. Danny was Player of the Month right before he got hurt. I think he has established himself as a really good player here but some of it has been a little bit unlucky. He could have walked away from each one of these games with a little bit more sharpness in some of the attacking moments and easily taken a one-goal lead and made it two or managed to control games a little bit more.
"Drawing on the road feels much better than drawing at home, especially with the way that we played tonight. But, you know, I think we don't lose momentum. We keep momentum. We keep moving forward. We go after the game in a big way on Wednesday and then use that to make us better and push; and once we get that aside, we'll be able to push really hard for the end of the year and go into the Playoffs."
Marsch said of how the team feels going into the US Cup Final in Kansas City on Wednesday, "Yeah, I think there's energy and excitement, but I think there's also calmness and poise. I think that balance will be key for us. We all know it's a big moment, it's a big game. Any time, like I said before, any time you get to a final, you don't know how many times you're going to be back.
"But I want us to have a real quiet confidence about how we approach the next few days, which I think can prepare our minds and bodies to now in a very calm and smart way go after a big game.
"So yeah, and you know, we have a lot of young guys around here but our young guys are some of the guys that are up for the challenge in the biggest way. So we're lucky in that sense. We've even got -- we're going to have a number of guys on the field who have a USL title. So this won't be their first championship; this will be their second. We'll use the experiences and we'll use our mentality, togetherness, to prepare us in a way to really go after the game."