All the momentum was on their side.
The crowd of 18,160 exploded following Sebastien Le Toux’s goal in the 17th minute.
But it was Kansas City who dropped a 3-1 bomb on what looked to a be a Union team in cruise control -- at least for much of the first half.
There were numerous other chances to go ahead 2-0, 3-0 or even 4-0 against Sporting Kansas City, the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions as well as the U.S. Open Cup champions.
MLS All-Star Graham Zusi equalized in the 41st minute and from there the momentum clearly shifted. All the Union could eventually do was look ahead to next Saturday’s road opener at Colorado.
“We had them on the ropes,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “You can’t let a team like that off. There’s a reason they’re winning so many games. There’s a reason why those guys dig down.”
The new-look Union made a number of changes following last season’s 10 victories.
For much of the first half, the Union looked refreshed following a grueling preseason. After Le Toux’s goal, they controlled the pace and kept pushing against one of the best clubs in the league.
They just couldn’t register another goal and Kansas City responded.
“You’ve got to be disappointed,” Union second-year defender Ray Gaddis said. “You’ve got 18,000-plus here cheering you on in an exciting atmosphere and everyone is excited to see you play and you don’t go and get a result, that’s disappointing.
“There’s no excuse that it’s Game One. We have to tighten things up. When you’re given an opportunity to make or break the game, you’ve got to take advantage.”
The Union led 17-7 in attempts on goal; in the end, it’s about capitalizing on those opportunities.
“We have to pick our heads up and not let this one bad game to start the season affect what we’re doing,” said midfielder and captain Brian Carroll. “We have another one to get ready for and we’ll start tomorrow. We have to forget about this. We have no other choice but to learn from it, wipe it from our memory and do the same thing we did in this game and carry it through the entire game next Saturday.”
Still, the immediate reaction was evident on Hackworth’s face soon after the season-opening defeat.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Hackworth said. “I feel like we let the fans down. I feel like we let ourselves down. In a game where we felt like we should have been up at least a couple goals, to give one up in the last five minutes of the first half was so far from what we had worked on and we worked very hard to try to negate and then in the second half to give up a free kick kind of undoes it a little bit.”
The Union entered the season as a confident side.
This loss won’t diminish that confidence.
“I think this team is trying to move forward and trying to get better,” said defender Sheanon Williams. “We’re kind of tired of learning. We need to go out and do it. The time to learn was preseason. Now, it’s time to play and that’s what we’re going to do going forward.”
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at firstname.lastname@example.org