CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union have plenty of offensive weapons to choose from and Sunday saw Jim Curtin’s substitutions come up clutch in the biggest game of the season.
In a 4-3 comeback win over rivals New York Red Bulls in their Eastern Conference playoff opener, Curtin got the most from his bench to seal a first playoff victory in club history. Fafa Picault registered the game-tying goal before assisting on Marco Fabian’s winner in the 105th minute. Both players made an impact when called upon and because of that, the Union are marching on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“You need these sort of games in which your teammates have to make an impact off the bench,” Union defender Jack Elliott said. “Everyone one of us out there today helped get us over the line and we are moving on because of that. Everyone in this club has put a lot into this season and especially today because if we lost today our season was done. It was incredible for Fafa and Marco to come off the bench and make an impact because you need that at this time of the year.”
The Union went into the halftime break down 3-1 after the Red Bulls stormed out to a commanding lead. Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all scored goals, with Union goalkeeper Andre Blake being at fault for two of the three. Regardless, the hosts stayed the course and got themselves back into the match.
Elliott’s header started the comeback before Picault came off the bench to score his first goal since Aug. 4th. The 5-feet-8 winger rose highest on a Sergio Santos cross and beat Luis Robles with a perfectly placed header. The 28-year-old’s efforts would not be done there as he set up Fabian, who scored two minutes after coming onto the pitch. The Union would ride out the remaining time and seal a date with Atlanta United on Oct. 24th at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Even coming it you still have to get used of what you want to try and do to effect the game,” Picault said. “I had to calculate my runs and decide when it was best to use my energy against their players who were tired. I was waiting on the sidelines to come in so once Jim called my name and asked to make a difference, I was always going to give it my all for him and this team.”
“It was a tough match and I respect the Red Bulls because they did not make it easy tonight. They fight for every ball and they pressure you into making mistakes. We were able to match that intensity and continuing pushing forward and fighting for a winning goal. Now we have confidence going into Atlanta, a place where we have tied once this season.”
Even with the scoreline in their favor, the Union did not take any risks against the Red Bulls late in the match. Veteran midfielder Warren Creavalle came in for Alejandro Bedoya and helped the Union allow only one effort on goal in the final 10+ minutes of the match.
Now heading into Atlanta, Curtin will have plenty of decisions to make in regards to who will start against the Five Stripes. Kacper Przybylko missed Sunday’s win due to a nagging ankle injury, while Andrew Wooten was ineffective next to Sergio Santos. Fabian and Picault could see themselves inserted into the starting lineup after positive performances, but if they aren’t then Curtin could save them for a similar outing like Sunday’s.
“Our roster is a deep one and whoever we call on we hope they make an impact on the game like Fafa and Marco did tonight,” Curtin said. “The players are the ones that win the games, not the coaches. I may have made the decisions to bring those two guys on, but they are the ones that got the job done as well as the rest of the team. We’re going to need every player going forward if we want to keep this thing going.”