By IVES GALARCEP
HARRISON, N.J.– The New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union have carried some pretty clear and worrisome trends through the early part of the 2014 season. The Red Bulls have been a slow-starting team that has shown much better quality in the second half, though that hadn’t resulted in any wins before Wednesday. The Union have been playing some of the most attractive soccer in the league, but allowing defensive breakdowns to cost them points at almost every turn.
Both teams stuck to those scripts as the Red Bulls turned up the pressure in the second half and broke through with a pair of second-half goals to earn a 2-1 victory over the Union at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday.
Thierry Henry opened the scoring with an unmarked goal off a quality Roy Miller run and pass in the 57th minute, then Lloyd Sam headed home an Eric Alexander cross just 10 minutes later.
The Union battled back to make it a contest in the 80th minute after Sebastien LeToux converted a penalty kick drawn after Ibrahim Sekagya handled a Maurice Edu shot in the penalty area.
Sekagya was shown a straight red card and LeToux converted the penalty to set up a promising final 10 minutes for the Union, but Philadelphia failed to take advantage of the Red Bulls being a man down, mustering just one Edu shot during that time span.
The victory helped the Red Bulls snap a season-opening six-match winless slide.
“You saw a lot of relief after that second goal went in because the way things have been going this year a one-goal lead is not good enough, and you saw what happened with the penalty kick,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said after the match.
“So yeah, it’s a relief. It’s a bit of a monkey off the back.”
Petke expressed with how his team played, though he acknowledged that the Red Bulls once again saved their best soccer for the second half.
“I told them before the game if they want me to put up “2-0 Philly” on the scoreboard before the whistle starts I’d do that,” Petke joked. “It does seem like they need to be down, or the game needs to be in the second half before they come alive.
“At halftime it was all about getting back to our shape and I think we did that a bit better in the second half,” Petke added. “But overall, I am pleased with the result and the effort and a lot of things from tonight.”
John Hackworth’s reaction after the match was a far different one, as he tried to come to grips with seeing his team outplay another opponent for long stretches, only for a lack of finishing and defensive blunders to cost the Union another result.
“The part that we have right is so much harder to get right,” Hackworth said after the match. “The part where we’re talking about these defensive things. You guys have seen it. The guys that have been out there before have preciously done a really good job.
“I don’t know what to say besides we have to get that sorted out.”
The loss drops the Union to 1-2-4 heading into a Saturday meeting with the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park.
Here are the match highlights: