The one constant for the Philadelphia Union this year and has been the team’s ability to get off to quality starts. Here in the team’s 22nd game of the 2015 MLS season, they’re still the only club in the league yet to allow a goal in the first 15 minutes.
Head coach Jim Curtin was adamant about the importance of the team getting off to another good start at RFK Stadium on Sunday, just how they were a couple of months ago at the end of May when Sebastien Le Toux scored in the fifth minute.
The Union managed to score a little earlier this time around. Twice. But by the end of the night, the Union were once again left shaking their heads after watching United come-from-behind to agonizingly defeat Philadelphia 3-2.
“It was difficult. We obviously had a great start to the game – guys came out with energy,” Curtin said. “You knew, though, with the two early goals, knew D.C. was going to wake up and they’re a team of quality and get some chances. We didn’t do a good job of holding on but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. But at the same time, we come up a little short at critical moments in the box.”
C.J. Sapong scored the quickest goal in franchise history, officially clocked at 20 second, after he took a pass from Cristian Maidana, turned and easily beat United keeper Andrew Dykstra. Less than three minutes later, it was Le Toux who sent a roller in for a streaking Sapong, but the ball rolled past everyone – and Dykstra – and into the net for a 2-0 lead before fans even found their seats.
But that’s basically where the good times stopped for the Union Sunday night. In the 32nd minute, Ray Gaddis was called to have fouled Davy Arnaud inside the box. Fabian Espindola stepped up for United and poorly missed well over the bar. But, even without the goal, the Union couldn’t seem to recover.
For the final 15 minutes of the half it was all United and newly-acquired Alvaro Saborio finally put the black and red on the board after one-touching a cross from Chris Korb into the back of the net.
Nick DeLeon equalized in the 66th minute after Brian Sylvestre made an initial save, but the rebound fell right to the D.C. midfielder who easily scored.
But the fireworks finally concluded in a wild two-minute spell that pretty much summed up the Union’s season.
Maurice Edu took a pass from Sebastien Le Toux in the 77th minute and sent a ball in the box for Sapong, who beat Dykstra to the ball and chipped one over the diving keeper. But, Sapong’s effort drilled the crossbar and stayed out of the net. Just a minute later, Espindola rose over the Union defense and headed in a cross from Korb again to give United the lead.
“I felt like I just needed a little chip,” Sapong said on his attempt. “I didn’t quite want to chip it as much as I did, but I still thought it was going in. It didn’t.”
“It was a little unfortunate that ball doesn’t go in off the bar,” Curtin added. “But at the same time, that’s the way it’s going for us this year and we’ll have to bounce back from some adversity again.”
This was the fourth and final matchup between the two teams this year. Each team won twice – each on their home field – by a goal. All of them had plenty of drama late, but it’s clear the Union can play with the clear-cut best team in the Eastern Conference.
“The only difference in all four games has been heart,” Sapong said. “When you look at splitting four matches, maybe it’s the fans that play into it, but at the end of the day it was just heart. You have to have that desire to come off the field with three points. If you look at the two games we played here, I think they showed a little more desire.”
The Union fell to 6-12-4 on the season and currently sit in 9th place in the Eastern Conference. D.C. United improved to 11-7-5 and they still sit on top of the conference while moving into a tie with FC Dallas for the Supporters Shield.
The Union return home next Saturday, Aug. 1 to host New York Red Bulls.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.