In the absence of Ilsinho, it was Jakob Glesnes who stepped up to single-handedly end a season for the New York Red Bulls.
The Norwegian center back scooped up a clearance in the last minute of extra time and blasted a hopeful shot past Carlos Coronel to give Philadelphia Union a 1-0 win to advance to the next round of the MLS Cup playoffs. A physical, intense afternoon in Chester couldn’t be decided in 90 minutes, but after both teams traded chances it was a single moment of drama that decided ultimate fate of a Red Bulls season spent on the margins.
The afternoon began with the dramatic pregame news that Philadelphia’s Olivier Mbaizo and Jamiro Monteiro were both declared ineligible due to league health and safety protocol, removing two of Union’s key cogs - indeed, Gerhard Struber had pinpointed Mbaizo as one of Philadelphia’s main threats in his midweek press conference.
On the Red Bulls side, the pregame festivities were colored by more low key drama. Designated player Patryk Klimala was kept out of the starting eleven as Gerhard Struber chose to deploy Omir Fernandez as a deep forward paired with lead striker Fabio. Tom Edwards was the chosen hinge on New York’s five-man backline, with Andrew Gutman starting at left back while utility man John Tolkin started from the bench.
The first half was a cagey and chippy affair fully in character with contemporary matchups between these two pressing-focused sides. After the Red Bulls pinned the Union in their own half for the opening five minutes or so, the game opened up and became more of a track meet. Carlos Coronel made a massive save on an Alvas Powell strike off a set piece second ball in the 7th before long passes from both sides created chaos around the field. Dru Yearwood was yellow carded for a hard midfield bodycheck on Union youngster Paxten Aaronson, and frequent clatterings from Philadelphia defenders left Sean Davis and the New York midfield surrounding referee Fotis Bazakos on several occasions in protest. Though the Union occasionally found space moving the ball side to side in New York’s final third, few clear chances were created on either side as the game stuttered into halftime.
Referee Bazakos allowed the physicality of the first half to continue in the second, with Philadelphia players throwing their bodies around only for Bazakos to hand New York players Andrew Gutman and Tom Edwards yellow cards for protest. The game began to calm and slow down in the 60s and 70s, even after each team introduced their most dynamic strikers - Patryk Klimala for New York and Sergio Santos for Philadelphia. The tension rose in the late moments, particularly when Santos broke free on the right channel and cut back a pass for Kacper Przybylko who fired over Coronel’s goal from point blank range. But after 90 chilly minutes in Chester, the game moved to extra time.
Patryk Klimala earned the first chances of the overtime period - first in the 94th minute where he scuffed wide of Andre Blake’s goal, followed a few minutes later by an on-target breakaway rejected by Blake minutes later. The second half of extra time started off with a bang as Carlos Coronel produced yet another trademark save on a fierce close range chance created by Philly substitute Cory Burke for Santos. Minutes later Kyle Duncan peaked the drama with the best chance of the evening, sending an open shot from the top corner of the Philly box ringing off the far post. But he would be one-upped in the 117th minute when Burke fired wide of Coronel’s open net to set the game on course for penalties.
But nobody in Subaru Park expected what would come next from the series of gradually intensifying chances. Following a Philadelphia indirect free kick in the final minute of stoppage time, the bouncing ball was cleared into the midfield by Red Bulls center back Andrew Gutman. The ball would be collected by hard-shooting Union center back Jakob Glesnes, who controlled before blasting the ball into the far corner past Coronel. In the remaining seconds New York center back Andres Reyes conjured up a headed attempt. But shortly after it bounced behind Andre Blake’s goal, Bazakos blew his whistle to end a thrilling 120 minutes of playoff soccer on the banks of the Delaware.
Speaking to press post-game, Gerhard Struber said the result was painful but the performance was another encouraging one that gives him hope going into 2022.
“I know it’s painful to go out of the playoffs this way, but I am more proud of my boys,” said Gerhard Struber.
“This team’s resilience is so much bigger than it was 3 or 4 months ago. They left everything on the field and I can say to my boys: heads up.”
“Philadelphia is a team on the highest level in America, and in an away game against a team like that sometimes you need a little bit of luck.”
As mentioned by Struber and reiterated by his captain Sean Davis, the team’s growth this year might not satisfy fans but gives them a strong platform heading into next year.
“It was going to take something special to beat us the way we played today,” said Davis.