CHESTER, Pa. – Playing under the lights at PPL Park for the first time this season, the Union fell to the San Jose Earthquakes by a score of 2-1 Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 18,581. Gabriel Gomez scored his club-leading third goal of the season, but a 93rd minute goal from Steven Lenhart, his second of the half, gave the visitors all three points.
The Earthquakes entered the match on a five-game unbeaten run and controlled the tempo early on. Zac MacMath was forced into action just six minutes in, diving to his right to push away a strong 18-yard effort from Rafael Baca.
Six minutes later, Khari Stephenson threatened to open the scoring, firing on goal from the edge of the box. MacMath was up to the task once again, getting down quickly to his left to steer the attempt away.
As the first half wore on, the Union defense settled in, with rookie Raymon Gaddis making his third consecutive start at right back. Buoyed by the return of captain Danny Califf, who made his first start since March 31, the back four helped keep early season Golden Boot contender Chris Wondolowski under wraps.
The Philadelphia attack struggled to create opportunities early on but nearly found a spectacular breakthrough by way of Michael Farfan in the 30th minute. The second-year midfielder attempted to chip Earthquakes goalkeeper John Busch from 25 yards out, but his attempt bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Making his first start of the 2012 season, Amobi Okugo added defensive bite in the midfield, filling in for an injured Brian Carroll (hamstring).
In the final minute of the first half, a knuckling Stephenson free kick from 35 yards out gave MacMath some trouble, with the former Maryland standout spilling the shot after diving to his right. He quickly recovered, though, sweeping the loose ball to safety.
The second half began brightly for the Union, with greater possession in the attacking half leading to several shooting opportunities.
New acquisition Kai Herdling, making his MLS debut just days after arriving from Germany, nearly found the back of the net in the 54th minute. A well-struck corner kick from Freddy Adu found Herdling's head at the edge of the six-yard box, but his open look bounced wide of the near post.
The Union continued to press for a goal, with a clever scoop pass from Okugo finding Lionard Pajoy behind the San Jose defense. Busch, however, was quick off his line, pulling the ball off the Colombian’s foot.
In the 76th minute, the Earthquakes broke the deadlock, with substitutes Marvin Chavez and Lenhart combining to snap the Union’s shutout streak at 407 minutes. Lenhart latched onto Chavez's cross with a diving header at the back post to give the visitors the game's first goal.
Philadelphia were quick to respond, with second half substitute Danny Mwanga providing the spark. The 2010 first overall pick received the ball inside the box with his back to goal in the 83rd minute, holding off a defender before laying off a pass to an oncoming Gomez. The Panamanian midfielder made no mistake with his first time effort, finding the lower left hand corner to level the score. The goal is Gomez’s first from the run of play.
With both teams pushing for the game-winner, the match looked destined to finish all square going into stoppage time. In the dying moments of the match, however, a deep Chavez cross found Lenhart at the back post, with the forward’s header bouncing into the upper corner beyond the outstretched arms of MacMath.
Referee Baldomero Toledo blew the final whistle just seconds later, extending San Jose’s unbeaten run to six matches. The 2-1 result was the Union’s first loss in four matches.
The Union will travel to take on the Seattle Sounders next Saturday, looking to rebound from the loss and win their second straight match at CenturyLink Field after last year’s 2-0 road victory.
WATCH: PHI-SJ highlights