The Philadelphia Union were in a dire situation.
Columbus Crew had lost to Sporting Kansas City, New England Revolution could only manage a draw against the New York Red Bulls, and everything appeared to be going to plan for the Union except for the one plan they needed most: a win at home against Toronto FC.
Down ten men and over four minutes in to six minutes of stoppage time, the Philadelphia Union earned a free kick that may have very well saved their season...........
The first half was a mostly uninspiring affair at PPL Park. Frequently appearing as if they were simply playing not to lose, the Union struggled generating chances against the Toronto defense and frequently appeared to be out of ideas creatively. Michael Farfan's long-distance shot well-saved by Joe Bendik in the 40th minute ended up being the Union's best opportunity of the first half.
Any Toronto FC opportunity in the first half ended up either being defended well by the Union, stopped by Zac MacMath, or completely wasteful. Neither team had played particularly well, and if the Union's service was not poor, the finishing was.
The second half saw the Union dictate possession and Fabinho trying to carve up the defense, but his crosses for the most part failed to reach their intended target. In an early effort to change up the match, John Hackworth made what many believed to be a bizarre substitution when he took out Jack McInerney in favor of Antoine Hoppenot. Needing a goal, it seemed like an odd idea to do a like-for-like substitution at the forward position when the Union's main issue had been creativity and service from the midfield.
Two minutes later in the 60th minute, Hoppenot nearly made Hackworth look like a genius. Danny Cruz played Hoppenot in on goal and Hoppenot launched a shot that could only ricochet off the far post and bounce harmlessly away from goal. Four minutes later Hoppenot had another golden opportunity inside the box but this time he went near post and whiffed on the shot completely, launching it harmlessly into the Sons of Ben. Hoppenot's bad luck and wasteful finishing reared its ugly head again a couple minutes later when he had a shot blocked just off the line. A scramble in the box ensued but the Union could only manage a corner out of it that they would do nothing with.
It appeared the Union's hopes of winning the game were dashed in the 78th minute. After Alvaro Rey rugby tackled Fabinho, Fabinho retaliated by stomping on his back, earning the Union defender turned midfielder a deserved red card. While Rey was rightly shown yellow for his foul of Fabinho, that is no grounds for Fabinho to completely lose his cool like he did. Not only did his straight red punish the Union tonight, but the following suspension will also see him out for the Union's upcoming match against D.C. United next weekend. Making things worse for the Union, a few minutes later Sheanon Williams picked up a yellow card, automatically suspending him for next week as well due to yellow card accumulation over the course of multiple games.
Hackworth would use his final substitution after the Fabinho red card to bring Kleberson on for Danny Cruz, but it all appeared too little too late. The Union, having not scored for 78 minutes at 11 v. 11 would need to produce a goal in over 12 minutes of 10 v. 11 play without conceding. With Kleberson on the pitch the Union would press up the pitch more, sending players forward creating numerous holes at the back that Toronto twice failed to exploit on breakaways. In the 88th minute, Robert Earnshaw thought he was alone versus MacMath on the break but Raymon Gaddis quickly caught up with him and broke up the play. Later on Earnshaw again found himself alone on the break but a weak shot was denied by MacMath.
The Union appeared to be running out of time. But in the 4th minute of stoppage time, Hoppenot earned a free kick in a dangerous spot. Former Manchester United player and World Cup winner Kleberson stepped up to take the free kick and.....
....Kleberson sent a screamer into the top corner to not only save the Union from an embarrassing draw but catapult them into a much greater likelihood of a playoff berth. Despite being arguably the Union's best player, Hackworth has been real hesitant to use Kleberson reasons that can only be described as nonsensical. Hopefully this goal increases Kleberson's playing time because the Union are a much better and much more dangerous attacking side with him on the pitch. Oh, and he can drill free kicks too, saving a season in the process.
Up next for the Union, their playoff push continues with a road trip to RFK Stadium and a match against league worst D.C. United. The game can be seen at 7:00 and will be televised on The Comcast Network.