Kacper and Saghafi Strike Again: Union draw LAFC 1-1

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So, I arrived ninety minutes before first kick, and I still had to park in a field past Lot C. Turns out it was going to be the third-largest crowd in Talen Energy Stadium history with 19,145. The largest since 2011. The vibe was excitement mixed with tension. Everyone in the house and watching at home knew what a victory over LAFC would mean. A team that has broken basically every team statistical record for a season in MLS history. A club that I mentioned earlier this week had a goal differential (44), equal to the combined goal differential of the top three clubs in the East; NYCFC (18), the Union (12) and Atlanta United FC (14).

The biggest lineup surprise was no Marco Fabián in the 18 when many even expected him to start. After the match, coach Jim Curtin told the media that Fabián was not active because he missed a team meeting on Friday.

1st Half

The Union wasted no time, dominating the ball in the first few minutes, and they would strike early. A boot from goalkeeper, Andre Blake to midfielder and Union captain, Alejandro Bedoya down the right side started it all. Bedoya delivered a perfect ball to Fafa Picault, who in turn, crossed to striker, Kacper Przybylko for a header. Picault put a little too much air under his pass and both Przybylko, and LAFC goalkeeper, Tyler Miller, had trouble timing it. Przybylko jumped as high as he could and headed the ball at its apex, barely dropping the ball over Miller’s outstretched hand for his 14th goal of the season. The Union took a 1-0 lead and the roof came off Talen Energy Stadium.

More First-Half Highlights…

Union center back, Mark Mckenzie, made an outstanding play in the 6th minute, shielding speedy LAFC midfielder, Latif Blessing, from the ball until it went behind past the backline.

The Union continued to put constant pressure on the LAFC defense. There was a sequence in the 10th minute when right-back, Ray Gaddis, and then Picault, delivered a shot towards goal right after one another. You could see LAFC was starting to get concerned.

I hate to harp on Jamiro Monteiro not looking the same since his injury but he just doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong. Even at 80-85%, he is still one of the best players on the club. In the13th minute Monteiro had Blessing one-on-one and tried to put the ball around and past Blessing and come back to it. Blessing is too fast for that and broke it up.

LAFC forward, Adama Diomande, went down in the box for a good five minutes. No foul called. Referee, Nima Saghafi was letting them play. Diomande was, of course, fine once LAFC restarted play on offense.

I believe this was the missed golden opportunity of the match for the Union. In the 22nd minute, Przybylko received the ball down the left side just after crossing midfield and was able to out-muscle two defenders and go by a third. He played the ball back to the top of the box and no union player made a run. Not sure why no one made a run with him. Even worse this took a long time to develop and only Bedoya had crossed midfield by the time Przybylko delivered that pass. That one was a head-scratcher.

There was a great individual effort by midfielder, Brenden Aaronson, in the 24th min against three defenders, forcing Miller into a diving deflection.

Aaronson earns a free kick in the 26th min. Monteiro takes this one and it was not a good ball. Low and into the line of defenders.

In the 30th minute, Haris Medunjanin played a beautiful cross just an inch over Picault’s head. Would have had a wide-open header. Another opportunity lost.

LAFC’s best shot of the half came in the 35th minute. Midfielder, Eduard Atuesta, delivered a blast from just outside the box and Andre Blake made a great diving save to his left. This would be only one of a number of outstanding stops Blake would make on the night.

Referee, Nima Saghafi, delivered another pro-Bradley family performance tonight. Monteiro was pulled down from behind right in front of Saghafi. There was no play on the ball whatsoever and Saghafi, rather than showing a yellow, doled out his 5th warning of the half to LAFC. I guess persistent infringement by a team isn’t a thing.

A few minutes later, a shot by LAFC bounced off the crossbar and fell right to MLS goal leader Carlos Vela. After a mad scramble for the ball, Vela was able to knock one in for the 1-1 tie and his 28th goal of the season.

2nd half

LAFC dictated the tempo for the majority of the final 45 minutes.

About 15 minutes in, they delivered a hard foul on Przybylko. Saghafi let the Union play the advantage. At the next stoppage of play, everyone expected Saghafi to issue a yellow for the previous foul, but he still refused to go to his pocket. Less than a minute after that, Picault would be pushed in the back with no call, Saghafi then called Monteiro on a push against the Union. He continues to be as arbitrary as ever with his foul calls.

Monteiro’s play continued to be lackluster in this one and I thought the right move would have been for Curtin to sub on Ilsinho for Monteiro. Instead, he pulled Aaronson.

The most concerning moment in the second half was Przybylko going down on his own accord at midfield, a minute after he had gone down in LAFC’s box. The good news is he walked off under his own power and didn’t appear to be limping after the final whistle. Curtin most likely would have played Sergio Santos up top with Przybylko at some point in the second half, but now he had to sub one for the other. The strange thing I noticed with Santos; although he had fresh legs, the first few possessions when LAFC had the ball, Santos was not pressing. No excuse not to there.

The last straw with referee Saghafi for me, came after Santos was about to receive a pass on a breakaway. Walker Zimmerman threw a blatant elbow on Santos to regain possession and could have been a straight red. Of course, it wasn’t.

The last good chance the Union would have to take the lead occurred in the 85th minute. Santos had a breakaway down the left side but was soon cut off by two LAFC defenders who really squeezed his angle along with the goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Santos gave it a good attempt but his shot went wide right.

The final result of this one would be a 1-1 tie. The Union has shown in their past few outings, against Atlanta, and Saturday night against LAFC, that they can hang with the big boys. Despite Saghafi’s awful officiating performance, the Union had enough opportunities they missed on their own. Although they are now five points behind NYCFC for first place, they can still steal the top spot in the Eastern Conference if they win out, and beat NYCFC on Decision Day.

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Mandatory Credit: AS USA

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