CHESTER, Pa. — For the second time this year, contributions from the bench lifted the Philadelphia Union to an improbable comeback win over the New York Red Bulls, this time on a historic night that saw the Union win a playoff game for the first time in franchise history.
Back in June, it was Ilsinho off the bench that sparked a comeback from 2-0 at the half. In Sunday's Round One Eastern Conference matchup in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, it was a trio of substitutes — Ilsinho, Fafa Picault and Marco Fabian — that helped bring the Union back from a 3-1 halftime deficit.
“I can’t take credit for anything that was said, done or tactics,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “It wasn’t about tactics, it was more about rolling your sleeves up and having Ilsinho on your bench helps also. He’s been a guy that can come in and change the game. Our roster is a deep one. I don’t think many teams in our league can go and bring an Ilsinho, a Fafa Picault and a Marco Fabian off the bench and they all impact the game in the way that they do.”
Picault headed home the equalizer in the 78th minute and Fabian scored in stoppage time of the first period of extra time off an assist from Picault. Ilsinho, meanwhile, didn’t make it onto the score sheet but his injection of energy helped the Union push a tiring Red Bulls team in a second half that was controlled by the home side.
“I was warming up waiting for the right time to come in and it came, [Curtin] called me over told me to switch it up make a difference,” Picault said. “I’m always going to give everything for Jim; he’s been a good coach, I believe he trusts me and that’s what I want to do is prove him right whenever I’m on the field.”
The Red Bulls grabbed a 2-0 lead inside the first half hour and after Union captain Alejandro Bedoya pulled a goal back in the 30th minute, a costly drop from Andre Blake led to an easy tap-in for Tom Barlow just before the break.
While the Union created a slew of chances in the second half, they also had the benefit of the wind at their back and had some bounces fall their way on the rain-soaked field at Talen Energy Stadium.
“It becomes a game of randomness and field position, wind is blowing hard, it's raining hard, you know that they're just dumping it in our end and then, you know, they can pin us in there, then they have guys that out wide, they have guys that come in and bring energy, quality in wide areas that become hard to deal with,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said.
The Union were missing leading goalscorer Kacper Przybylko on the day after he had a setback in his recovery from a foot injury picked up in the pregrame warmups in the regular season finale against NYCFC. Bedoya returned to the lineup after suffering a quad injury in the next to the last game of the season in Columbus. He was replaced in the 112th minute by Warren Creavalle after limping off with a cramp.
“We’ve got a great team here,” Bedoya said. “This character we showed here, we’ve shown it throughout the season as well. I couldn’t be more proud of them and I think we go down to Atlanta, hopefully get an upset and we keep moving.”