Soccer, when we break it down all the way, is a simple game. Pass to the open men, score, and prevent to the other team from scoring. Tonight, the Philadelphia Union played a very simple game against D.C. United. They passed, they defended, they scored. All while playing with 10 men.
Tonight’s game was the first in the 2015 Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup, a competition in which the Union finished as runner-ups last year. This year, the team is looking to collect some hardware, and tonight, D.C. United attempted to stand in their way.
The Union put out something very similar to a full strength lineup, switching in Ray Gaddis at right back and moving Sheanon Williams over the left and letting Fabinho start the game on the bench in order to get some rest. The only other changes were John McCarthy starting in goal and Andrew Wenger was back in on the left side for Zach Pfeffer, who was also started on the bench.
The game started under the threat of rain and when lightning struck across the river in the 14th minute, the game was forced to enter a weather delay. The delay ended up lasting for 50 minutes before the players were allowed to warm up again and continue playing.
The game was drastically different for both teams after the break, if only because the first 14 minutes were uneventful. The middle of the pitch on both halves was a series of puddles, leading to the ball, and the game, being playing much slower.
Things began to get interesting in the 22nd minute when C.J. Sapong put a header on goal on one end, only for McCarthy and Richie Marquez to combine for a goal line clearance on the other.
As the ball made it’s way down the field, it was lofted up in the air for Sapong who jumped up and contested it with United defender Steve Birnbaum. Both players went down on the play and as Sapong stood up, he found the referee holding a red card in his face.
Sapong was called for a foul in the air, in which the referee deemed him to have swung his arm into Birnbaum, the second time he was warned about this. However, instead of awarding Sapong a yellow, or even issuing a warning to both players, Sapong was given a straight red, leaving the Union with 10 men in only the 25th minute.
“You could argue it’s a no foul and maybe a foul on Birnbaum,” had coach Jim Curtin said after the game. “I didn’t get a true explanation. I just asked for consistency because two plays before guys go up and challenge. I think it was too quick of a decision.”
United quickly capitalized, beating the Union down the field on a breakaway with the help of the extra man. United midfielder Miguel Aguilar then swung a low hanging cross into the box which Jairo Arrieta pounced on and smashed into the back of the net.
Almost all hope seemed lost for the Union at this point but the “Boys in Blue” dug deep and found a way to actually put pressure on United despite being down a man.
“I thought for being a man down, we had a lot of possession and when we didn’t have the ball, we really did a good job of helping each other out and limiting their chances,” said Williams. “Credit to all the guys for how we did in defending and attacking the net.”
The half ended with the Union dominating both possession and the chances in front of goal, something that only continued in the second half. Eric Ayuk, who played his best game in a Union jersey, found Wenger streaking across the box towards goal, only to see his shot rebound off both post and then back out into play.
Not to be deterred by their missed chances, the Union continued to hammer the United defense, exposing them on the break. Cristian Maidana, another player who had a wonderful game, played a ball to a wide open Williams, who then took his defender to the endline and crossed it in front of goal to Ayuk who made a run into the box and fired it past the keeper.
The goal seemed to wake United up a little bit and they started to press forward against the Union side who was missing their star striker. After surviving a whirlwind couple of minutes, Fabinho was subbed on to replace Wenger. He moved over onto the left side, playing in front of Williams in a wide midfield role.
The introduction of Fabinho gave the Union more freedom to move in the opposing half and they benefitted from it in the 79th minute. Fabinho was given time on the ball to find Maidana, who then immediately played it back to Fabinho as he made a run in behind the defense. Fabinho took two touches and fired to the near post and in for only his second goal as a member of the Union.
Curtin made one final substitution as Maidana was replaced by Pfeffer, giving him a much needed break. The Union then kept control of the game for the final ten minutes, playing slow and limiting United’s time on the ball.
When the whistle blew, the Union were visibly relived to have seen out the game, a game that seemed lost when they lost Sapong in the 25th minute.
“It’s a huge win,” said Brian Carroll. “First of all it’s hard to get a comeback victory in this league, and to do it in a tournament like this in conditions like this, already being low on numbers, it was huge. It’s a testament to where we’ve gotten to as opposed to where we started and it leaves a good taste in your mouth going into this much needed break, and maybe it prepares us going in to the next one.”
To put it simply, tonight’s game can be summed up in two words.
What did you think of the Union's come-from-behind win over D.C. United? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union writer Kyle Basedow at firstname.lastname@example.org.