HARRISON, N.J. – Although the Union are guaranteed a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, their seed and the date of their first playoff game are very much up in the air after an ugly 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
A header by Dane Richards that resulted in an own goal charged to Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón proved to be the only score of the game. In just the eighth minute, Richards headed a cross from Teemu Tainio off the left post, and the ball bounced off Mondragón’s back and into the net.
Even though the Union needed at least a tie to be sure of securing a first-round bye in the playoffs, Peter Nowak’s starting lineup was a rather defensive 4-5-1 formation. Sébastien Le Toux was the lone forward, with Michael Farfan, Justin Mapp, Zach Pfeffer, Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll in the midfield.
But the Union didn’t play much defense. New York, which needed at least a tie to qualify for the playoffs in the first place, dominated possession.
After watching his team get outplayed in the first half, Nowak made two attack-minded substitutions at halftime: Danny Mwanga for Pfeffer and Freddy Adu for Amobi Okugo.
But the Union almost gave up a second goal early in the second half. After Mondragón made a diving save on Richards in the 59th minute, Luke Rodgers somehow shot over an open net from seven yards out.
The Union’s best chance to score came in the 67th minute. A free kick from Sébastien Le Toux floated into Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost’s net, but Union defender Carlos Valdés was offside when the free kick was taken.
There was also a corner kick in the 90th minute, but Le Toux’s service was caught in traffic by a leaping Rost.
Philadelphia now must wait through the weekend to find out what their playoff seeding will be. They could finish anywhere from second place in the Eastern Conference to fourth, which would force the Union to play in the wild card round on October 26 or 27.
It’s not even known whether the Union would host a wild card playoff game should they end up in one. Should the Colorado Rapids win at Vancouver on Saturday, they would jump over the Union to become the second-highest seeded wild card team.
That would force the Union to fly to Denver for a game at high altitude against a team they have never beaten in four opportunities.
You can read my Twitter play-by-play recap in the console at the bottom of the post. If you’re on a mobile device, click here for it.
Courtesy of the Union's media relations department, here are the playoff scenarios that could result from tonight's game.
Union win: The Union finish either first or second in the East.
- If Sporting Kansas City lose, tie or win by a smaller margin than the Union, then the Union finish first in the East.
- If Sporting Kansas City win by an equal or larger margin than the Union, then the Union finish second in the East.
Draw: The Union finish first, second or third in East. Their seeding will be based on results of other games involving Sporting Kansas City, Columbus and Houston.
Union loss: The Union's seeding and playoff game location and date would be determined by other matches.
Their seed could be anywhere from second in the East to fourth in the East, the last of which would put them in the wild card playoff round. Whether the Union would get a home game would depend on results involving not just the Eastern Conference teams mentioned above, but also the Colorado Rapids.
Philadelphia Union (4-5-1)
Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragón
Defenders: Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdés, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan
Midfielders: Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo, Zach Pfefffer, Justin Mapp, Michael Farfan
Forward: Sébastien Le Toux
Bench: GK Zac MacMath; Ms Freddy Adu, Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Roger Torres; Fs Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga
New York Red Bulls (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Frank Rost
Defenders: Jan Gunnar Solli, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, Roy Miller
Midfielders: Rafael Márquez, Dax McCarty, Teemu Tainio, Joel Lindpere
Forwards: Dane Richards, Luke Rodgers
Bench: GK Bouna Coundoul; D Carlos Mendes; Ms Stéphane Auvray, Matt Kassel, Mehdi Ballouchy; Fs Juan Agudelo, Corey Hertzog
A reminder that Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry is suspended tonight because of a red card in New York's last game.