If you didn't know anything about the two teams facing off at PPL Park on Saturday, you couldn't have been blamed for thinking the Philadelphia Union was the first-place team and the New York Red Bulls were the ones playing out the string.
Playing their last home game of the season, the Union overwhelmed a slow-starting Red Bulls side, scoring two first-half goals before holding off a late charge from New York to post a 2-1 victory on Saturday.
The Red Bulls pulled one back just after halftime on a Danleigh Borman goal, but the visitors saw their bid for a late equalizer saved when Fred cleared a Juan Agudelo header off the line in stoppage time.
The loss prevented the Red Bulls from clinching the Eastern Conference regular season title, while giving Philadelphia its ninth win of the season.
Philadelphia out-hustled and out-played New York for most of the first half, starting strongly and pressuring a lackluster New York side playing without starters Thierry Henry and Roy Miller. The absent starters couldn't account for New York's lack of energy or its toothless offense.
The blame for that fell squarely on a central midfield that provided little in the way of creativity or possession, and a 4-5-1 formation that once again struggled with Juan Pablo Angel playing as the lone striker.
Fred and Michael Orozco Fiscal scored the goals for Philadelphia on a pair of poorly-defended set pieces, with Orozco's goal coming after a poor clearance attempt.
New York looked much better in the second half, helped by a tactical shift to a 4-4-2, with Salou Ibrahim replacing an ineffective Tony Tchani. Head coach Hans Backe also shifted Joel Lindpere into a central role, while pushing Mehdi Ballouchy to the left wing. Lindpere's tenacity helped New York gain control of midfield, while Ballouchy was given more freedom to operate. He responded by combining with Borman on Borman's early second-half goal. Borman also enjoyed an improved second half after struggling badly in the first half.
Rookie Juan Agudelo nearly played the role of hero when he skied for a free header, but his would-be equalizer was cleared off the line by Fred, denying the U.S. Under-20 national team striker his first professional goal.
Another subplot from Saturday's match was the MLS Rookie of the Year battle between Tim Ream and Danny Mwanga. The two enjoyed a good battle, playing each other to a standstill.
The Red Bulls will have a chance to clinch the first regular season conference title in club history on Thursday with a win against New England at Red Bull Arena. Philadelphia closes out its season with a visit to Columbus.
In case you missed them, here are the highlights:
What did you think of Philadelphia's victory? Worried about New York's recent form? Looking forward to seeing how the Union looks in 2011?
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