It’s a tough thing to have to play the opponent and the clock.
For the Philadelphia Union Saturday on the road against the Columbus Crew it was the latter that failed to cooperate as the club suffered its first loss following a 2-1 final at Crew Stadium.
The old cliché of teams playing “a tale of two halves” is the only way to describe the Union in another clash against an Eastern Conference opponent in as many weeks. It was a pair of first half goals from Columbus forward Bernardo Anor that the Union were unable to overcome, despite a goal in the 62nd minute from second half substitution Leo Fernandes.
The goal was Fernandes' first in Major League Soccer, pouncing on a low driven ball across the box from Sebastien Le Toux and getting plenty of boot on it to push past Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark. Le Toux repaid the favor from a week earlier when it was Fernandes that beat his defender down the flank and found an onrushing Le Toux in the box.
“I am very happy that I got my first goal in MLS, but I’m very disappointed in the result,” said Fernandes, postgame. “I thought we should have at least tied the game up and we had plenty of opportunities to do so in the second half, but sometimes that’s just soccer.”
The Union kept the pressure on full steam ahead in the second half, and nearly earned the second goal in the 67th minute when Fernandes collected the ball into space and sent a driven ball of his own into the box that a streaking McInerney narrowly missed back post. From the 60th minute on it was the Union creating the majority of the chances, sending as many as three as forwards to support the target striker on the attack. It was high pressure and quick counters in the second that kept the Crew on their heels – a mirror image of what Columbus did to go up two goals in the first half. In even greater specifics, the Crew simply capitalized a pair turnovers from the Union and went full steam ahead on the counter.
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“They had two chances in the first half and both of those chances were goals,” said Union midfielder Brian Carroll. “Both of them came off situations that we could have been a little bit cleaner with. Any time you go down on the road, two down and can come back from the half, pull one back and continue to fight through the end of the game that’s a good step forward.”
Another positive step in this one was the play of converted central defender Aaron Wheeler. Much like he did when the Union battled the Crew in preseason play, Wheeler was strong in the air and made some big clearances out of the Union 18-yard-box. Wheeler, who filled in for the ailing Austin Berry once again showed that he can be viewed as reliable depth in tight situations.
Despite having a number of customary starters missing in action from this one, the Union showed resilience and an ability to create chances. In a win over New England in the club’s home opener, Union manager John Hackworth that he wanted his club to play more of a complete match from start to finish and it truly was the Union looking to finish out Columbus and steal back a point (or three) in the closing moments.
However in the end, time was simply not on Philadelphia’s side.
“I thought we had plenty of chances to get the second one through and it just didn’t fall for us,” said Hackworth. “It was a little bit of a chess match because what they wanted to do was spread us out and every time they were able to break us down they took advantage of their chances and every time we were able to win the ball in a good spot, we at least had an opportunity to create a scoring chance…we have to take care of these turnovers because you can see that when it happens, we get punished for it. It’s something we will definitely touch on as a team and look to correct.”
The Union look to return to winning ways on Saturday, March 29 in a return to PPL Park to face Eastern Conference foes Montreal (4 p.m., purchase tickets).
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com