Philadelphia Union left humbled after Red Bulls exploit early sluggishness: "They made us pay"

CHESTER, Pa. – Despite already being out of the playoff race, the Philadelphia Union came into Sunday’s game vs. the New York Red Bulls hoping to spoil their rival’s Supporters' Shield hopes.

Instead, their final road game of the season quickly turned into one of their worst in club history as the Union surrendered four goals before halftime in a listless 4-1 defeat at Red Bull Arena.

“I don’t know exactly what to say,” Union winger Sebastien Le Toux remarked afterwards. “I’m still pretty mad at getting our [butts] kicked for 45 minutes today.”

Le Toux scored the only goal of the second half but, in reality, this game was over by halftime. In fact, the Union were facing an uphill climb just seven seconds into the contest after giving the ball away on the opening kickoff and allowing Mike Grella to race down the field and score the fastest goal in MLS history.

For Union head coach Jim Curtin, though, the team’s response to that was almost as bad as the goal itself.

“Off the tap, the idea was to get it back quickly and play it forward, to start the game in their half of the field,” Curtin said. “You could tell the ball that was played back was kind of in between [Michael] Lahoud and [Steven] Vitoria. You freeze for a second against a team that lives off high pressure and they made us pay for it.

“It’s a disappointing way for us to start the game. You’d like at that point, though, for someone to grab a hold of the group and say, ‘Yes, we gave up a silly opening goal. Mistakes happen. There’s still 89 minutes and 53 seconds or however much is left at that point, so there’s still a lot of game left.’”

But with captain Maurice Edu out of commission with an injury and longtime team leader Brian Carroll on the bench, the Union never got that message, and the Red Bulls opened up a 2-0 lead just three minutes later before scoring their third goal of the match 17 minutes in.

Just before halftime, the Red Bulls added a fourth goal as the Union limped into their locker room with their worst first-half deficit of the season, prompting Curtin to yank Vitoria and midfielder Cristian Maidana out of the game.

“No one had a strong first half,” the Union coach said. “I said to them that you could’ve made seven changes. We just came out a little flat – and we had been a team that has started games well.”

The second-half changes may have actually helped as Fernando Aristeguieta and Eric Ayuk, who entered in the 77th minute, gave the team some offensive life and Ethan White helped calm down the back line in place of Vitoria.

But the Union could only get one goal back after the break as Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles made big saves on Aristeguieta and Ayuk to preserve the easy win for New York – and ensure that the Union need a win in next weekend’s regular-season finale vs. Orlando City to avoid finishing with their worst record in franchise history.

“I think we learned a lot, even tonight,” Curtin said. “As hard as it is to say, we found out where we came up small against a very good Red Bull team. Some of the problems are recurring ones, so we’ll have to address them in the offseason and look forward.”