After not conceding a goal for five halfs of MLS regular season soccer, the Philadelphia Union conceded once in each half today en route to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Fire Saturday night at PPL Park.
The match got off to a bit of a slow start. Both sides were cagey and unable to break through for any chances. But that changed in the seventh minute when Patrick Nyarko got a shot off in the box only to see it blocked and turn into a Union counterattack that yielded nothing.
Two minutes later the Chicago Fire burned the Union defense. Mike Magee overpowered Michael Farfan and used the space to find Estonian international Joel Lindpere who crossed to an unmarked Nyarko who buried the ball past MacMath to give the Fire the lead. It was the first goal the Union had conceded in MLS regular season play in 265 minutes.
Throughout the first half the Fire blazed an inferno through the Union midfield. The Union had very little answer to the Fire and each time they came up with an idea for an attack, something comical would happen. From Jack McInerney acting drunk* and falling after receiving a cross to Sheanon Williams crossing a ball to Phoenixville, it was an ugly display of soccer.
*McInerney's behavior did not change as the match went on, prompting many to wonder why no present officer slapped him with an underage on his way out.
Raymon Gaddis left the pitch with an injury towards the end of the first half. Instead of making a sub right away, John Hackworth decided to let Gaddis recover and play with ten men for the remainder of the half. Funny thing, though, it was during these final ten minutes that the Union played their best soccer of the half.
Danny Cruz had a ball from Conor Casey that was stopped by Sean Johnson and the Union pushed up the pitch once more, creating an opportunistic free kick where Sebastien Le Toux sent McInerney too far to the end line. All McInerney could do was head the ball straight to the keeper.
The second half started with a Union substitution as Gaddis finally came off the pitch. Fabinho came on in place of him and almost immediately Casey had a beautiful scoring chance. Casey shot it just wide of the post and all Johnson could do was watch and hope.
In the 54th minute, Fabinho played an excellent through ball to Le Toux. Le Toux ignored a wide open Casey and instead opted for a shot that got blocked by Johnson. The Fire would soon get a goal scoring opportunity for themselves but Chris Rolfe's shot barely sailed over the bar.
In the 60th minute a bizarre sequence happened following a Le Toux free kick. Williams dove for the ball, the ball appeared to hit his stomach and then his knee and then somehow the ball rolled into the net for a Union goal. It was one of the Union's more bizarre goals of the year but nonetheless it was the equalizer the Union had been looking for. The challenge was now going to be handling the Chicago Fire attack in a game the Fire desperately needed to get back in the playoff picture.
But for a while after the equalizer it was the Union who began to assert more control over the match by attacking from the wide positions. At one point during this phase of the match the Union earned four consecutive corners. None went in, but the closest call was the second opportunity where an Okugo header forced Johnson into a spectacular save. The series ended when McInerney sent a header over the bar.
The Fire's offensive threat would resume in the 70th minute. Nyarko beat Zac MacMath with a cross but the ball just eluded Magee. If Magee latches into the ball he scores easily into the open net, but instead the ball went away harmlessly for a goal kick. The danger was not over though as one minute later Dilly Duka got in on MacMath only to be denied by the keeper.
In the 73rd minute, John Hackworth made what would end up being a costly mistake when he subbed out Michael Farfan for Leo Fernandes. Farfan had been one of the stronger players for the Union tonight and almost immediately after entering the game, Fernandes would commit the game's most costly turnover. Fernandes got stripped of the ball and Nyarko was able to blaze down the field. Nyarko found Magee who did an excellent job to roof the ball into the top of the net, extinguishing the draw and giving the Fire a 2-1 lead.
The Union would not go down easy, though. Casey had himself a header cleared off the line. McInerney received the ball in the box near the net but he bungled the ball and could only get his shot deflected for a corner. Then at some random point in the match Johnson took a swig of some of McInerney's ale because in stoppage time Johnson passed the ball directly to an unsuspecting Okugo who instinctively shot the ball and barely missed wide an equalizer.
The game ended with Union super-sub Antoine Hoppenot carrying the ball and going down easy in the box after the slightest bit of contact. The referee was correct in not awarding Hoppenot the penalty, and the game was ended a 2-1 Chicago Fire victory. The new Magee led Fire continue to burn past their opposition as they attempt to fight back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Up next for the Philadelphia Union is a nationally televised match next Saturday night at PPL Park against a D.C. United squad who managed one of the upsets of the season this evening, shocking Montreal Impact 3-1 at RFK Stadium.