HARRISON, N.J. -- Whatever joy the New York Red Bulls felt about moving into a first-place tie with Sporting KC was overshadowed by the opportunity they missed in their scoreless tie against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.
New York found little satisfaction in a game dominated by strong midfield defense and outstanding goalkeeping from the Red Bulls' Luis Robles and Philadelphia's Zac MacMath. With bodies moving up and clogging the middle third of the field, space for passing and solid scoring chances came at a premium.
For some, like Red Bulls midfielders Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill, the outcome felt more like failure than advancement for their 11-8-6 team, which hasn't scored in two games.
"Tonight, I feel like we dropped two points,'' said McCarty, whose bullet-like header in the final seconds of stoppage time found MacMath's abdomen just inches from the Union goal line. "It doesn't feel like we got a point.''
Cahill added that the Red Bulls' pace was too slow, that they played into Philadelphia's hands even though they controlled the ball for 65 percent of the game.
"To feel the way we feel, it's a bit mixed,'' Cahill said. "It shows us where we are as a club. We were too slow, 100 percent. In a game like that, somebody has to do something to change it. We played at 70 percent and still couldn't win.''
The Red Bulls went into the game looking for three points against a rival who has yet to beat them at home. The Union are 0-5-1 lifetime in Red Bull Arena, so avoiding a loss and remaining in third place with 38 points, a point behind New York and KC, was sufficient for coach John Hackworth.
"The atmosphere tonight was fantastic,'' Hackworth said. "It had the feel of a playoff game. We were trying to come in here and get our first point. With the playoffs coming, there's great implications to that.''
Philadelphia, 10-7-8, came close to giving up a winning goal in the 63rd minute, but was bailed out when MacMath leaped out in front of Peguy Luyindula and grabbed Cahill's header near the goalmouth. MacMath had a strong game from the beginning, as the MLS co-leader with nine clean sheets contributed two huge saves in the first half.
Sebastian LeToux nearly put the Union on the board in the 73rd minute when the midfielder blasted a shot off the crossbar. He also had a point-blank chance in the 80th minute that Robles stopped dead with a fingertip save.
Red Bulls midfielder Jonny Steele nearly scored in the 79th minute with a shot that went inches wide of the right post.
The Red Bulls had the best chance of the opening half in the 34th minute on Fabian Espindola's header off a feed from Steele. But MacMath got his hand on it and lifted it over the crossbar.
MacMath saved the Union in the 29th minute, too, when he came out in front of Thierry Henry to grab McCarty's cross, thwarting what would have been an easy header for the Red Bulls' captain and scoring leader.
Still, the Red Bulls wound up with a share of first place, even only till Sunday night when Sporting plays struggling San Jose.
"I'm happy about first place,'' Red Bulls coach Mike Petke said. "I'm not happy about the game. But it's a point and we'll take it and move on.''