If there’s been one theme in the Philadelphia Union’s inaugural season, it’s been outplaying the result, usually due to a costly lapse or two on the defensive side of the ball.
That dynamic was at work yet again Thursday in the club’s 2-1 loss against the Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew at PPL Park.
Philadelphia came out and dominated possession for much of the first half, only to go down 1-0 after Steven Lenhart headed home a Guillermo Barros Schelotto free kick in the 43th minute.
“It was a cheap goal,” said central defender and captain Danny Califf. “Nobody touched it, it just went in. We weren’t close enough to him (Lenhart) to have cleared it and it was certainly a preventable goal and we seem to have given up a few of those.”
Despite the goal, the Union went into the locker room with momentum in their favor after Sebastien Le Toux equalized with a penalty kick in first half stoppage time for his ninth tally of the season. The momentum wouldn’t last long, however, as Lenhart netted his second goal of the match in the 51st minute, finishing again with his head.
“The second one I had my arm on Lenhart and I pushed him so I kind of knew where he was,” said Califf. “The ball got served and I had done a quick turn to see where he was. He made a great run and snuck right in on me and dove in so I didn’t have a chance to even slide because I would have kicked him in the face.
“So it was a tough one, it was a good ball and a really good run. I should have done better with it. I had an arm on him at the beginning of the play and I certainly take that one… I should have been able to prevent that goal. That’s my job. I should have done better.”
In truth, the Union’s backline has been much improved of late, surrendering a respectable eight goals in their last six league matches, right around the league average for goals allowed.
What’s frustrating, though, is that the goals have almost always come against the run of play, and usually when the opposing team has been generated fewer opportunities to put the ball in the net.
“We need to be sharper in defense as a unit,” said veteran midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi, who left Thursday’s match in the first half with a tweaked groin. “We have been dominating games and then allowing limited chances to the other team and it seems that however many they get they put in.
“I think we just need to be sharper on the defensive end to cut those out. We need to be focused when we’re dominating the game so heavily that when things come back to our defensive end that were on our toes and clearing things up.”
While it’s clear that Philadelphia has work to do in order to begin earning results on a consistent basis, there is plenty to be said for a first-year club spending so much time on the ball and dictating the tempo more often than not. When attainable and deserved points are squandered time and time again, however, the satisfaction of playing well begins to wear off.
“Definitely, because we work so hard and we know we are a good team but only as good as the table shows,” added Miglioranzi. “But we do have a lot of heart and courage and we do have a lot of games left to prove that.”
The club won’t have to wait long to atone for their loss, with only two days rest before a Sunday showdown with red-hot FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park. Real Salt Lake will come to PPL Park the following Wednesday, continuing a tough stretch of matches against the elite teams in MLS.
Despite the disappointment over Thursday’s loss and a 1-1 draw with New England last weekend, the Union are still confident that their quality will translate to the standings.
“I think we’re a team that prides itself on being tough to play at home and these past couple of results have stung a little bit,” said goalkeeper Chris Seitz. “With that being said, we get another game Sunday in Dallas, which is going to be a tough place to play, but I think we can go in there and definitely get three points.”