Philadelphia Union fall to D.C. United after squandering early lead

The Philadelphia Union travelled to D.C. to face their new rivals for the fourth time this season, still elated after their U.S. Open Cup win over the Red Bulls. In each of the three meetings between the two sides prior to this one, the home side had won. Was that going to continue?

The opening moments certainly hinted at a very different story. Just 21 seconds into the game it was C.J Sapong who found the back of the net after receiving a pass from Maidana and then turning on the spot to push Birnbaum off of his back and onto the floor. He then fired his shot into the bottom right hand corner, giving the Union their fastest ever franchise goal and a 0-1 lead. A huge display of strength and finesse was rewarded as the Union’s good form looked to continue.

Things got even better for the Union just moments later! Maidana missed a shot but it didn’t matter as Le Toux searched for Sapongs run in the fourth minute, the ball didn’t find the consistent striker, but instead found the goal for a 0-2 advantage! He certainly didn’t intend for the ball to go in, but the frenchman was far from complaining.

This was a huge shock to the home fans as their prolific Defensive unit had come undone. But as the first half went on, the men in red and black started to nestle their way back into the game with Chris Rolfe’s CM role becoming more of a hindrance to the Union than previously anticipated. A great move in the 23rd minute saw a cheeky through ball from the teams top goalscorer as he aimed to find Espindola, but the shot could not find the target.

As the pressure continued to pile up, the Philadelphia Union surrendered a penalty. But yet again, a controversial one. Davy Arnaud drew a foul from Gaddis who now becomes the Union’s sole starting right back, but Arnaud went down a little too easily and the tackle looked to be a relatively clean one, but going in from behind when in the 18 yard box is always a risk and unluckily for the Union, it didn’t pay off.

Espindola was the man to step up for D.C. but in an attempt to outsmart Union keeper Sylvestre, he sent the ball high and wide over the cross-bar, wasting a perfect opportunity to get back into the game.

But, the opportunities that followed were anything but wasted. Debutant Saborio score din the 37th minute following what was simply a moment of daze for Fabinho. The veteran was caught ball watching as Korb sent the through ball deep into the box and whilst Fabinho should have tracked the striker, he simply remained still and allowed Saborio to net his fourth of the year.

Ayuk continued to impress as the Union bit back rapidly. Fabinho, desperate to make up for mis mistakes sent a high ball in but it resulted in Ayuk’s winger going wide. The Union still had the lead going into the half, but they had to change something and fast if it was to stay that way.

The Union fought bravely and weathered the storm as much as they could but it was too much for the back four. DeLeon found his first goal of the season on a rebound goal following a Sylvestre parry. The Keeper did all he could to stop the first shot and when DeLeon smashed it just slightly further to the right hand side, Sylvestre could only watch as the lead crumbled. This was no real fault of the keeper, the back four should have been much more assertive.

Brian Carroll seemed to be one of the high points for the Union, contributing to all aspects of play, as did Maurice Edu. Both have excelled in the DM position and both found themselves cutting out passes and turning them into short counters. Fred was subbed on for homegrown star Zach Pfeffer who had a fairly promising game. Whilst he wasn’t stealing spotlights, his natural tracking ability was like that of a SatNav. He had players shut down for the entirety of the first half and whilst perhaps sloppy and a little unnoticed at times, his impact on the field was definitely worthy of a mention.

With the game now tied, it was C.J Sapong who looked to try and add even more drama to a rivalry that already has more twists than the final season of Breaking Bad. It was Eric Ayuk  who had finally found the man he was looking for after trying over the top through balls pretty much all game. Whilst his accuracy is to be debated, his vision is second to none. Ayuk found Sapong who was able to beat the DC keeper in a foot race, only to ping it off the bar and stand in shock.

Then, just like these games always seem to go, the action was all at the other end. Korb sent in a cross for Espindola (or Spindler as the ESPN commentators seem to think he’s called) who then converted the chance to send D.C ahead for the first time this game and score his second of the year.

It was almost like a wake up call for the Union who then fired more crosses into the box than there were runs in tonights Phillies win. Corner after corner, and clearance after clearance. Fabinho again was just itching to get on the score sheet with shots being fired from just outside the D and only missing by inches, Edu also had a deflected shot just before that with the ball rebounding to Ethan White who sailed his shot wide.  Venezuelan substitute Aristeguieta gave it one last go before stoppage time, but the D.C. keeper held on to both the ball, and the three points.

For now, the Philadelphia Union will be extremely disappointed with this result, after burying D.C in the first few minutes, the couldn’t find the nail in the coffin and unfortunately for them, the corpse turned out to be a Zombie. It was always going to be tough to keep a team so dynamic off of the score-sheet, but to allow a three goal comeback and what could have been four if a penalty had gone in, is simply not acceptable. The players looked tired and understandably so. They’ve had a long week and Curtin could probably have utilised his substitutes a little earlier. But the team now have to prepare to face the Red Bulls once again on the second of August, who will be without a doubt looking for retribution and then their U.S. Open Cup semi final. It’s going to be a long road from here on out for the Union, but a road that’s going to surely bring a lot of surprises..both good and bad.