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Second-half spark from substitutes helps Philadelphia Union rescue point in New England

Fafa Picault provided a second-half spark off the bench for the Philadelphia Union and set up their late equalizer against New England on Wednesday.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — At halftime of their match with the New England Revolution, the Philadelphia Union knew they had to pack more of a punch on the field. 

It took the Union longer than they hoped to equalize the contest at Gillette Stadium, but they came away with a 1-1 result thanks to the impact made by substitute Fafa Picault on Kacper Przybylko’s 84th-minute strike. 

“Honestly, New England was playing very tough,” Przybylko said. “They played very good defense. At halftime, we had to prepare for the fight. They were fighting and we were not so we did it better in the second half and we also changed the system and everyone did well in the second half.” 

At the start of the second half, the Union opened up the Revolution defense by switching to a 4-2-3-1 with Ilsinho inserting into the game on the right wing. 

The formation change allowed Sergio Santos to make some dangerous runs on the left wing and tire out some of the New England defenders. 

“With the turf, it’s tough to pass and connect balls,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Credit to them, they were organized defensively and broke up a lot of the passing lanes. We decided to be a little more direct, play balls in and fight for second balls. Sergio did a good job of stretching them, I thought we did a good job in behind and made their back four turn and face their own goal for the first time in the second half.” 

In the 62nd minute, Curtin brought on Picault to throw another fresh set of legs at the Revolution, and eventually the hard work of the 28-year-old paid off. 

“I’m used to the 90 minutes after last year,” Picault said. “I hate the bench, honestly, but my job  is to come on and when I do have my minutes show what I’m capable of doing. All the defenders around the league now it and it’s not a secret. Just keep giving them problems and I think that’s happens when I do that.” 

Picault blasted through a slew of defenders on the right side of the penalty area and picked out Przybylko, who made the final touch after a deflection off Andrew Farrell to get credit for his fifth goal of the season. 

“It’s my job being in the box,” Przybylko said. “I saw Fafa was moving outside and I know he had two options. He shoots, or he plays the ball inside and he played the ball inside and I was staying there like a typical striker just waiting for the ball.” 

The late equalizer made up for a slew of mistakes that were littered throughout the first half, and were most evident on Brandon Bye’s 31st-minute opener in which the Union’s set-piece defending fell apart. 

“It’s disappointing that we conceded in the first half off a restart,” Curtin said. “We talked a lot about doing our jobs, Sergio made a mistake. He at least put his hand up and knew he made a mistake. I’m proud of the guys for picking him up, but it’s a little bit inexcusable on the corner kick to concede.” 

The Union were able to hold the Revs to one goal because of their defending in the box, three saves from Matt Freese and a handful of missed opportunities from the Revs attackers. 

“I was definitely very happy to make some saves, but by no means, were they any incredible saves,” Freese said. “They were pretty routine saves. Kacper came up big with a goal line save. Jack had a few really good clearances. Ray had a bunch of things on his side. In general, I think it was a really good team effort to keep it 1-0 and then after that, getting the equalizer is huge.” 

“I don’t honestly remember them having a big chance to score,” Przybylko said. “They just scored the one goal when everybody slacked off on our team. Every point counts and every point is important.”

Jun 26, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson (22) reacts after being issued a yellow card during the first half against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Now the Union face their toughest test of their three-game road swing on Saturday versus New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. 

The Union are nine points ahead of NYCFC, and thanks to Wednesday’s draw, they have a point that may prove to be valuable come October. 

“In the middle summer months, picking up any points on the road is critical,” Curtin said. “It’s a time now where both teams and a lot of the league is on a long layoff. There’s going to be rust. It’s good to get that one out of our system now and we have a really tough NYCFC opponent in their building and it’s two teams that are at the top of the conference. Only one team has beaten NYCFC. People tend to forget that this year. They’re a really good team and we’ll have a tough test there.” 

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