While much of the I-95 Corridor was preparing for a likely natural disaster, the New York Red Bulls put the finishing touches on the disaster known as the 2012 Philadelphia Union season. New York rode two tallies by Kenny Cooper and another by Thierry Henry to obtain the 3-0 victory, a win which ultimately earned them a bye into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
When the schedule was released back on January 5th, this match had all the makings of a bitter showdown between two playoff-bound teams. The Union didn’t follow the script however; the unpopular moves of Peter Nowak have left Philadelphia a shell compared to the one that appeared in the MLS Cup Playoffs in only their second season.
Instead, only New York was looking to improve their placement in the postseason bracket, and they followed through with a convincing performance. An early penalty put New York in front for good. In the 13th minute, Tim Cahill and Carlos Valdes battled near the spot for a loose ball. The ball came loose, Cahill moved towards the ball, and Valdes tripped him. Chris Penso pointed to the spot, and Cooper put the penalty kick past Zac MacMath for the 1-0 lead.
New York outplayed the Union throughout the entire first half, finishing with 56% possession while Philadelphia only generated one shot at goalkeeper Luis Robles.
A couple of mistakes in the Union central defense led to the second goal in the 35th minute. As the Union tried to regroup back to the center backs, the Red Bulls applied significant pressure through Cooper and Cahill. Michael Lahoud tried to pass the ball back to Amobi Okugo, but the ball squirted between the back’s legs. Henry pounced on the mistake, dodging an attempt by Valdes to impede his progress, and then slotting it past MacMath to double the lead.
The second half saw the Union take control of the possession, as it appeared Red Bulls coach Hans Backe placed a premium on holding onto the shutout. As Philadelphia pushed forward, they definitely created chances against the New York defense, but could not profit a goal out of that play.
Yet by the 66th minute, it was the Red Bulls applying the final stroke to this match through Cooper. He tried to dribble into the area, but was stripped of the ball by Brian Carroll. The ball came straight to Dax McCarty, who one-timed the ball into the area straight into the path of Cooper. From a sharp angle, the former Timbers and F.C. Dallas forward beat MacMath.
By the time Union favorite-turned-Red Bulls bench hand Sebastien Le Toux entered the match, the outcome was all but decided. It appeared Le Toux may have passed up on some chances to score, perhaps feelings of remorse seeing his former team struggling so much without him. The Union kept pressing, but that elusive first goal never came. Adding insult to injury, a cross by Danny Cruz in the 89th minute fell right to McInerney, 7 yards from goal. The striker, who has scored 8 goals in what is his breakout season in MLS, shot wide of the goal from in close, summing up perfectly the lost season in Philadelphia.
Thanks to D.C. United holding Chicago to a draw later in the afternoon, the win afforded the Red Bulls a bye. They have finished third in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Fire. Their Conference Semifinal opponent will be D.C., another I-95 grudge match. New York will host the first leg as the lower seed, while Sporting K.C. will await the winner of the Fire vs. Dynamo play-in game in the midweek.