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Philadelphia Union overcome 2-goal deficit to beat Red Bulls, earn first playoff win

The Union will face Atlanta United for an Eastern Conference semifinal at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.

CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union’s first-ever playoff victory will never be forgotten. 

The Union came from behind to beat rival New York Red Bulls 4-3 Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium.

“What a game. We showed a lot of character. I’m so proud of the group,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. 

The comeback was not expected after Andre Blake produced three goalkeeping errors and the home side was denied of a few penalty shouts. 

Union coach Jim Curtin said everyone had “that negative feeling in their brains” that they wouldn’t get the job done. 

But somehow, some way, just like they have all season, the Union rallied to bury the demons of their first nine years of existence. 

“In that moment, it’s everything or nothing,” Union midfielder Jamiro Monteiro said. 

That mentality may have been the little something extra Curtin said he saw from the players during the second half. And that little something will be needed when they travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United for an Eastern Conference semifinal at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.

“There’s always been questions,” Curtin said. “There’s been, ‘They’ve been in the playoffs three of the last four years, but they haven’t won a big game.’ We recognize we haven’t won a championship yet, but this is a big step forward for the club. It’s the kind of win that can build momentum in a playoff run.

“I think our fans can walk a little taller and prouder. It’s a good thing because it’s been a long time coming to get that first playoff win. It’s been elusive and now we finally have it.” 

Jack Elliott, Fafa Picault and Marco Fabian provided goals in the second half and extra time. 

The Red Bulls struck first in the sixth minute through Josh Sims, who fired an open attempt into the right corner after Blake positioned himself poorly for the shot. 

Blake was at fault again in the 24th minute, when he whiffed on a corner kick that allowed Tim Parker to deposit the visitors’ second tally of the contest.

Six minutes later, Bedoya handed the home squad some life through a shot from the right edge of the penalty area. The ball ended up with the Union captain off a Haris Medunjanin free kick from the opposite end of the pitch. 

Just as the Union’s luck started to turn, a string of events put them back at a two-goal deficit. 

First, they thought Parker committed a handball off a Brenden Aaronson shot, but referee Chris Penso ruled otherwise. As he described the play to the Union players, the referee put his hands to his chest.

Right before halftime, Blake was unable to catch a ball in the box, and it landed right at the feet of Tom Barlow, who easily tapped home the goal for a 3-1 Red Bull’s lead.

The Union reversed course early in the second stanza by pulling a strike back through Jack Elliott. 

A Medunjanin free kick initially found Santos, who struck the top of the crossbar. The ball then dropped to Elliott, who tucked his rebound into the bottom-left corner. 

The Union leveled in the 78th minute by way of a leaping header from Picault, who latched onto Santos’ cross from the right wing to beat New York keeper Luis Robles. 

After 15 minutes of extra time and countless chances, Fabian struck for the game-winning goal. The Mexican midfielder attempted to cross in from the left, but the ball redirected and found the right corner of the net. 

Fabian’s goal was his second since Aug. 11, and he came on in a substitute role that he didn’t expect to be in when he signed in January. 

“You have to keep your head in the game, right?” Bedoya said. “That’s what I kept stressing to guys that are going to be disappointed in not playing. It’s next man up here. We’ve talked about it all year. It’s important that they’re still in the game and when they come on they make a difference. He was able to do that. He got the game-winner for us, which was huge.” 

Philadelphia preserved the victory through a tremendous defensive effort. Mark McKenzie, Elliott and Co. held the Red Bulls without a shot on goal after the 61st minute. 

The victory extends the club’s best overall season for at least one more game. In their last meeting with Atlanta, the Union won 3-1 at home on Aug. 31. 

“We have a lot of confidence,” Monteiro said. “We have a lot of trust in each other. We need to keep doing our thing and don’t look to the other team, just keep focusing on ourselves.” 

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