The New York Red Bulls took care of business and climbed to 1st place in the East on Sunday with a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park. But the way the victory was attained was anything but business-like. After Joel Lindpere started the scoring in the 15th minute to give the Red Bulls the lead, Freddy Adu began to confuse and frustrate the Red Bull defense that would be tormented all day long.
After Adu put on multiple showcases of individual footskill, including one ball that he put through a defender’s legs while in the box and then turned a shot on net, he finally put himself on the scoresheet in the 31st minute. Adu crossed a ball just after a corner that landed squarely on the head of Lionard Pajoy who buried the header into the back of the net to tie the game 1-1.
The game then changed completely and irreversibly in the 43rd minute, when Adu was making a run into the box. As he was being challenged by two Red Bull defenders, he went down in the box, and a whistle was immediately blown from the referee. Inexplicably, with the entire stadium sensing a penalty kick coming, the referee announced his decision of diving on Freddy Adu, a foul that resulted in a second yellow, and Adu was subsequently sent off.
The Union were then down to just 1o men for the remainder of the game, and the controversy of the call resounded throughout the stadium. Freddy Adu gave his explanation for why he believes the second yellow was unwarranted, “It wasn’t a foul or anything (on New York), but in that instant I’m not trying to bait the referee, I was just bracing myself to get hit…I didn’t stay down and complain for a call or anything, but he just blew the whistle so quickly, and everything happened so fast.” Adu said he would have at least given a warning before making a call that so dramatically changes a game, “but hey, I’m not a referee,” he said.
Adu was the most dynamic player on the field for the first half of the game. “I had the freedom to move everywhere, be inside, and be unpredictable. That’s always been my favorite way to play, to be able to float everywhere and be involved all the time.” His fancy and proficient footwork was unmatched in the first 40 minutes of the game, and his being sent off changed the course of play for the remainder of the game.
After entering halftime tied at 1, the Lionard Pajoy scored just 25 seconds into the second half to give the Union a 2-1 lead. This goal led to nearly 25 minutes of pure domination by the Union. The Red Bulls back 4 was inconsistent at best, and chances for Pajoy, Gomez, Daniel, and Mwanga for the Union were prevalent. Ryan Meara made multiple game-saving clearances to keep the deficit at just 1 goal.
Then, in the 69th minute, Markus Holgersson was on the receiving end of a corner cross that he headed into the back of the net to tie the game 2-2. This goal did not stymie the Union’s chances, however, as Pajoy missed a chance all alone just minutes after the equalizing goal.
In the 78th minute, Kenny Cooper chested a ball down in the box, pushed it past Zac MacMath to the touch line and then finished it easily with his right foot. With a 3-2 lead, the game became the “Ryan Meara Show” as Meara made three fantastic saves in the final 10 minutes, including one in extra time on a blast from from within 5 yards on the near post.
As the full time whistle sounded, a cascade of boos came down from the stands at PPL Park, most directed at the referees who irreversibly changed the game by assigning Adu his second yellow for diving at the end of the 1st half. With the win, the Red Bulls overtook first place in the Eastern Conference from Sporting Kansas City, and gained its fourth consecutive 3 point result. The Union dropped to 2-6-1 with the loss, but the quality of play and the attacking mindset of the Union was unmistakable, and was a strategy that had been missing all year until Sunday. However, the Union still languish in 9th place in the East, and victories by Montreal and Houston this weekend now puts 7th and 8th place a full 4 points ahead of the Union.