Fabi vs DCU

Union take early but unable to hold on to draw after late penalty call goes against Pfeffer

Riding a two-game winning streak into the nation’s capital, the Philadelphia Union had plenty of reason to be optimistic. It was just two weeks ago when the Union beat this same United squad 1-0, albeit on a late goal, but in a game that the Union allowed zero shots on target.

The following week, another clean sheet, this time on the road at Red Bull Arena.

So yes, with confidence and form at the highest level so far this season, the Union came out buzzing on a hot and humid night at RFK Stadium. Just five minutes in, the much-maligned winger duo of Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger got on the score sheet with Le Toux calmly slotting one past United keeper Bill Hamid. A half hour later, Wenger perfectly struck a ball that beat Hamid, only to clank off the bar. Still, the Union were seemingly well in control and in position to end D.C.’s 18-game unbeaten streak at RFK.

“We came out this game confident, believing in ourselves, believing in our ability, and wanted to pressure to put them on the back foot and we did that,” defender Maurice Edu said. “The whole group pressured as a unit where we created that first goal. And we could’ve had a second, and maybe a third, in the first half.”

Head coach Jim Curtin echoed that sentiment.

“I thought in the first half we came out very strong,” he said. “[We] had a chance to get up 2-0 with Andrew’s look at goal, had another head ball opportunity to get up 2-0, and if you let a team like D.C. hang around, they’ll take advantage.”

Unfortunately, they did. On D.C.’s second shot on target of the entire game on what would be the final of the first half, Chris Pontius brilliantly headed home a cross from Taylor Kemp past a diving Brian Sylvestre. The rookie goalkeeper hardly had a chance.

“To give up the goal before the half was difficult but, at the same time, my message at halftime was we played very well, we played a good half,” Curtin said. “I was happy with the group.”

Of course, 1-1 against the Eastern Conference leader – and a team on the aforementioned home unbeaten streak – wasn’t anything to be down about. But what unfolded in the second half was.

Two tough plays went against the Union that wound up haunting them.

In the 62nd minute, Vincent Nogueira was deservingly shown a yellow card for taking down Chris Rolfe in the Union’s half. But on Rolfe’s way down, he appeared to swipe at Nogueira forcing the French midfielder to the ground for a few minutes.

On a Union counterattack on the ensuing play, Le Toux was seemingly in alone before he was taken down from behind by Chris Pontius on the edge of the penalty box. Pontius was shown yellow and remained in the game.

“I think we have to wait for the video, but for me it’s a red card,” Le Toux said after the game. “The referee just gave a yellow. I don’t know, it’s always have to be nice with the home team and don’t help the visiting team but it was a tough call.”

Of course, the game was ultimately settled on a penalty that was given to D.C. in the 85th minute for a handball on Zach Pfeffer.

“It’s a difficult one to take, especially at that time in the game,” Edu said. “We thought we they maybe should’ve had a red card on the play with Seba, so…it’s one of those games where you put in the effort and come up a little bit short.”

And the goalscorer on the penalty? Rolfe.

“Difficult that he’s the one that winds up scoring the game-winning goal, but this is soccer,” Curtin said briefly touching on Rolfe’s earlier incident with Nogueira earlier in the game.

The Union fell to 3-8-3 on the season and will have a quick turnaround with a midweek game against Columbus Crew SC at PPL Park on Wednesday. Then a home date with NYCFC on Saturday. June will be a busy month, overall, with five MLS games on schedule – two of which are midweek – as well as least one U.S. Open Cup game and a friendly against Reading United.

“Unfortunate on the day a couple of breaks didn’t go our way but we’ve no time to feel sorry for ourselves because we’ve got to get ready for Columbus,” Curtin said. “Guys are confident right now, you can tell this team is much different than previous weeks: there’s a lot of fight, they’re creating a lot of chances, and there’s positives to build on.”


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