CHESTER, Pa– The Philadelphia Union recovered from a frustrating first half to put away the New York Red Bulls in the final 45 minutes and earn a 2-1 win in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16 on Saturday night.
Jim Curtin’s men will face the winner of the D.C. United-Orlando City match in the quarterfinals on July 18.
Here are the three things we learned from the Union’s victory.
1. Cory Burke Has Earned The Starting Forward Job
There’s a stark difference in the way Cory Burke is playing compared to C.J. Sapong.
Burke, who started the year as a back-up to last season’s 16-goal scorer, once again created persistent pressure in the final third, and although his chances didn’t fall in the first half, he pushed until he found the back of the net in the 61st minute.
“I missed a few chances in the first half, kept my head up and knowing that the next chance I got, I was going to put it away,” Burke said.
“I’m happy for Cory, you can’t fault the kid for the amount of work he puts in for the team,” Curtin said. “He stuck at it, got us a second goal.”
Burke totaled six shots during his 89-minute shift, which is one more than Sapong recorded since the start of May.
The Union have admittedly lacked a killer instinct in front of goal, and it still was on display Saturday, as Burke missed a pair of close-range chances in the first half.
But with Burke in the starting lineup, the Union stand a better chance of finishing those opportunities at the moment since he is putting himself in the right places with his runs and creating shots.
“It’s a credit to the work he’s done at Bethlehem Steel, the time he put in there, to work hard, to maintain his fitness so that when we go out in a game like this he can quite literally empty his tank to where his body shuts down at the end of the game,” Curtin said. “He almost made it to 90 minutes tonight, but he cramped up because he emptied his tank and that’s all you can ask from a guy.”
“The amount of times he made it difficult on (Tim) Parker, (Aurelien) Collin, in the back there, it wears them down over time,” Curtin said. “That’s the reason he had the space he had to get the goal. You see right off the shoulder in the blind spot. Like a boxer, the punches these guys take over and over, the runs Cory is willing to make wears people down and he was able to get the second goal.”
2. Trusty and McKenzie Turn In Worst Performance Of Season
When Curtin was asked about the play of 19-year-old center backs Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, he let out a sigh and then went into a deserved criticism of their play.
“Not great. It wasn’t their best night in terms of sliding, covering for each other,” Curtin said.”I don’t think they were on the same page tonight. But at the same time, they’re young and made some really good plays. I think they made some composed plays.”
The little mistakes were on display from the start, and the Red Bulls eventually took advantage of their off night in the 77th minute, when Kaku slotted a pass through to Bradley Wright-Phillips.
“As a center back, you can play good for 89 and a half minutes, and if you get split like they did — Kaku finds a great spot, plays a great ball to a top striker, but it’s still the pros so we’re going to hold them to that high standard. We know they can handle that situation, to give up a goal like that in that moment was difficult,” Curtin said.
Since Curtin was a center back as a player, his criticism on the young duo is a bit tougher, but he also was quick to compliment their play despite producing their worst performance as a center-back pairing.
“I give them a lot of credit for their growth and sticking with it,” Curtin said. “I don’t think it was their sharpest game, but maybe I’m critical and too hard on them because I see too much talent in them. I see where they can go and what they can be. That’s what Earnie (Stewart) and I want from them. We want them to play in Europe and tonight wasn’t a European-type performance from either of them. Honest truth. I know they will bounce back against Vancouver because we believe in them.”
3. Medunjanin and Bedoya Prove How Valuable They Are
There’s been a greater appreciation for Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya since they were both sent off in Atlanta at the start of the month.
Without the central midfield pair, the Union lacked a bit of bite in attack in Friday’s loss to Toronto FC, and with them back in the fold on Saturday, they controlled the contest against the tired Red Bulls.
“I was hungry,” Bedoya said. “I told myself these last two games that when I get back out there, we were in good form leading up to that game in Atlanta, and even before that whole mess happened, I thought we were playing really well in Atlanta. So I just kept telling myself to continue to play like the way I was playing before, and I think I’m still in good form.”
Medunjanin scored on a rocket of a strike in the 52nd minute, while Bedoya provided Burke with an assist on his goal. In the eyes of Curtin, Bedoya especially is in remarkable form at the moment.
“If you look at (Bedoya’s) body of work, he’s having his best season in a Union shirt, I believe that,” Curtin said. “He’s playing at his highest level for us. He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him.”
“Our team will go as our central midfield goes,” Curtin said. “When they’re on a ball a lot, and we do a good job of putting them on the ball, that’s how our system is setup to have success. When we do that, we’re a darn good team and it starts with Ale.”
Bedoya will be ready for selection again next Saturday, when the Union host the Vancouver Whitecaps., but the club is waiting to hear back from MLS on a potential Medunjanin suspension.