On a night where they had no margin for error, Philadelphia Union II kicked off Week 23 in style with a 2-1 victory over NYCFC II at Belson Stadium in Queens, New York on Wednesday in MLS NEXT Pro’s Game of the Week.
Union II had to do it in comeback fashion and can thank Nelson Pierre who slotted home the game-winner in the 85th minute when things looked destined for a shootout.
Pierre was subbed on in the 63rd minute and rewarded Union II boss Marlon LeBlanc for that decision, as the goal was good enough for his side to put the clamps down and see out the win. Wednesday’s result extends Union II’s unbeaten streak to six and places them at an enviable third place in the Eastern Conference playoff race with just three match weeks left.
The first half certainly looked like it was going to be NYCFC II’s day, as striker Jonathan Jimenez rifled off three shots on target that forced saves in the first 24 minutes, and Union II can thank goalkeeper Brooks Thompson for standing strong with his four first-half saves (of his seven on the evening) in just his sixth start of the season.
Jimenez finally broke through in the 58th minute for his seventh goal of the year.
Union II striker José Riasco sparked the comeback moments later, nailing home a header for his third goal of the season to set the wild finish up.
Wednesday’s must-win match tested the depth of both sides, which came off respective weekend matches, but the new week did not change the recent theme of either’s form.
Union II's six-game unbeaten run features five wins, while NYCFC II is winless in its last six with five losses in that span. Though the New York City-based side is down as of late, they are far from out of contention for an inaugural MLS NEXT Pro playoff ticket.
The Story: The same story, the Eastern playoff picture remains gridlocked.
If you miss a week of MLS NEXT Pro action, you miss a lot, and the Eastern Conference is the best example of that remark.
Columbus Crew 2 is the only team in the conference to stamp its playoff ticket, and the race for the final three spots has six qualified teams realistically in the running.
For now, Union II and NYCFC II sit third and fifth respectively, and the impact of Wednesday’s result will be a little more clear after the rest of the week plays out.
They remain ones to watch as their respective campaigns see them having to square off against at least two of the Eastern Contenders apiece.