CHESTER, Pa. -- Led by furious second-half efforts from Chris Pontius and C.J. Sapong, the resilient Union erased a two-goal deficit to draw the New York Red Bulls, 2-2, on Sunday night at raucous Talen Energy Stadium.
“That had playoff feel to it, it was intense,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “They had the better of it in the first half, we had the better of it in the second.”
After allowing two goals and getting out-possessed 57.5 to 42.5 percent in a dreadful first half, the Union came alive in the 66th minute, thanks to Keegan Rosenberry. From the right side, the MLS All-Star placed a perfect cross that caused Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle to haul down Pontius from behind.
“We’ve got to do better in the second half,” said the Red Bulls' Sacha Kljestan, who had his club's two goals. “We played like boys, not men.”
On the ensuing penalty kick, Sapong ripped his shot to the right of Luis Robles, cutting the visitors' lead in half to 2-1. More importantly, the goal lit a fire under the Union that didn’t extinguish until the final whistle.
“The PK was open,” Sapong said. “I’ve been trying to take some of the recent PKs, but we’ve had other guys step up and I was first to the ball. It’s a pretty good strategy we have on the field where whoever is confident takes it and I was able to put it in.”
With Talen Energy Stadium still roaring, the hosts tied the game just a minute later when Fabian Herbers broke the Red Bulls down on the right side and placed a right-footed cross. The low ball was dummied by Sapong before rolling to Pontius on the far post for the easy finish, locking the match at 2-2.
“Fabian came on, provided a spark,” Sapong said. “He put the ball right down the line and I tried to run to the near post, Pontius ran to the far post and put it in.”
But the Union’s momentum ran out in the 72nd minute, when Ilsinho was fouled from behind by Connor Lade. The Brazilian raised his left arm and came in contact with Lade’s face, earning the straight red card and ejection, putting the Union down a man for the final 20 minutes.
“Belief is the word,” Curtin said. “It’s everything. When they walk out on this field, they know they can compete with anybody. We’re a confident team. The guys just keep going, they keep pushing and they get rewarded. I’m really happy with how they responded.”
Paced by Barnetta, the Union continued to control play, but were unable to find a third goal. Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch couldn’t believe it.
“Ridiculously, I had to go to five at the back when we were up a man because I didn’t feel like we could defend,” he said. “For me, that was the only way to help manage the game tactically so that we could somehow stop giving away big chances. And even with that being said, we almost gave it away still.”
Although disappointing from a standings perspective, the draw was a success, keeping the Union, now 8-6-6 with 30 points, ahead of the Red Bulls, now 8-9-4 with 28 points, in the Eastern Conference.
”I’ve been saying it all year, the belief on this team is unbelievable,” said Union center back Ken Tribbett. “No matter what the score is at half time, 60 minutes, 70 minutes, 80, 85, we believe.”
Kljestan opened scoring for the Red Bulls in the 27th minute, after an egregious turnover from Tribbett in his own territory found Bradley Wright-Phillips, who pushed a pass for Kljestan for the easy goal.
The Red Bulls doubled their advantage in the 43rd minute when an Ilsinho foul led to a free kick at the top of the Union box. Lining up, Kljestan fired off a shot that tipped off Tranquillo Barnetta and froze Andre Blake before falling in.
“It’s hard being up 2-0 and to walk away with a point,” Marsch said. “But it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like a loss.”