After winning their previous two matches, the Philadelphia Union found themselves on the road facing the top team in the Eastern Conference – D.C. United. This match represented an opportunity to break into the top six of the Eastern Conference and thus into playoff position, but the team was unfortunately unable to come away with a single point in the end.
The game began on a very positive note for the Union, with Sébastien Le Toux coolly finishing to the far post for his first goal of the season. Although D.C. United held possession for the remainder of the first half, the Union had most of the chances. They could not, however, capitalize on any of these, highlighted by Andrew Wenger’s shot that beat Bill Hamid, the United keeper, but rose in the air just enough to bounce off the crossbar. D.C. United made the Union pay for failing to capitalize as Chris Pontius scored on a beautiful header just before halftime.
The second half saw both sides creating dangerous chances while Philadelphia continued its struggle to keep hold of the ball. Both keepers, D.C.’s Hamid and the Union’s Brian Sylvestre, made some impressive saves to preserve the 1-1 deadlock. In the 63rd minute, the Union’s stud midfielder Vincent Nogueira was whistled for a foul on Chris Rolfe, who as he was falling down seemed to earn himself an early trip to the dressing rooms by giving Nogueira a nasty, studs-up kick in the groin. This potential turning point was not to be, however, as the referee ended up giving Nogueira a yellow card and leaving Rolfe unpunished. Only a few minutes after being substituted for Wenger in the dying stages of the match, Union fan favorite Zach Pfeffer had his arm extended in the box when the ball came down on it. This unfortunately, but justifiably, led to a D.C. United penalty, which Rolfe put in the back corner of the net, putting United on top (2-1) for good.
In the end, it was a frustrating result for supporters of the Blue and Gold, but there are some positives to take away from this match. Although the Union did not hold the ball well (less than 40 percent possession), this is to be expected when playing a great team like D.C. United in their stadium. Additionally, the team demonstrated an ability to use the counterattack to put pressure on one of the league’s top defenses. Though they looked punchless on set pieces, the U looked potent in open play throughout the game. D.C. United entered the game with a reputation for staunch defense, but the Union made their backline look beatable. Another positive occurrence was Le Toux netting his first goal of the year. He struggled out of the gates and, while his fitness did not look good this match, he is starting to look more like his old, dangerous self.
While the Union left D.C. empty handed, they showed the ability to create solid chances against one of MLS’s stingiest defenses. The team was unable to take full advantage of the opportunities they created, giving way to an unlucky late penalty that did them in. With Le Toux bagging his first goal of the season and the team looking dangerous on the counter, the pieces of a powerful attack are starting to come together, which could signal there are brighter days ahead for supporters of the U.