As has been the case far more often than one would expect judging by Philadelphia Union’s 4-10-3 record, the expansion side executed their game plan well in the early going against FC Dallas on Sunday.
In sweltering 100-degree heat, Manager Peter Nowak’s squad was determined to score first and force Dallas to chase both the ball and the match. They did just that when Alejandro Moreno scored his first goal of the season in the ninth minute to put the Union up 1-0.
“Well we score a goal and get ahead in this heat,” said Moreno after the match. “We thought that was going to be important because it was going to allow us to keep the ball moving and force them to try to push for the game, and the longer the game went on, it was going to make it a little bit easier for us to try to find spaces in a counter attack.”
All was going according to plan on the road against an opponent riding an eight-match unbeaten streak. Then it wasn’t.
Brad Knighton’s mishandling of a through ball and subsequent red card reinforced one trend for Philadelphia and invited a second to reemerge. While the Union have outplayed their results pretty consistently throughout the season, they had seemingly managed to shake the nasty habit of receiving first half red cards that plagued them in four of their first ten matches.
Despite a valiant effort following David Ferreira's equalizing penalty kick -- the Union kept the score level at 1-1 for 52 minutes down a man -- the heat and MLS Player of the Week Jeff Cunningham were ultimately too much for the club to handle.
“We did that (scored an early goal) and then we thought that we could manage the heat and keep the ball and try to force them into chasing the game,” Moreno added. “But we didn’t hold the result for as long as we should have and it became an even match again and, as I said before, we got punished.
“We battled pretty hard to close out the first half and end in a 1-1 draw and try to make some changes and try to sort ourselves out defensively. We did that for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half, and then we had a break down and we got punished. In the end, we come out of here with nothing after putting a lot of work on the field.”
A 1-3-1 record in the last five matches has Philadelphia’s postseason aspirations looking faint, with 11 points separating the club from a tiebreaker scenario with Toronto for the final playoff spot if the season ended today. The Union have been a bad foul here and an ill-timed mistake there away from being very much in the mix, but there’s no benefit to dwelling on what-ifs. At this point, the Union are best served taking the rest of the season one match at a time, minimizing their mishaps and looking for improvement every step of the way.
If they can do that, the club’s expansion season could still turn out to be a success after all.