Match Review - Philadelphia Union vs. Real Salt Lake

Mitchell Leff

Philadelphia twice came back from one-goal deficits to earn a draw at home against Real Salt Lake. RSL stay undefeated through goals from Luke Mulholland and Kyle Beckerman. Union equaled the scoreline with goals from Andrew Wenger and Maurice Edu. Union still have yet to defeat RSL, but this match was highly entertaining, full of talking points.

The 2-2 score line doesn't begin to tell the story of a match that was equal parts thrilling, confusing, and frustrating. The thrills came from a second saved penalty in as many matches from Zac MacMath, a goal from a new acquisition, as well as goals from US National Team hopefuls. Andrew Wenger got the start in his first match available for his new club, playing the central striker role once held by the man he was traded for. Likely not by mistake, he also wears the number 9 shirt previously worn by Jack McInerney.

Things got interesting in the 4th minute when a penalty kick was awarded for a foul by Austin Berry. The referee's decision was immediately the subject of hot debate. The foul was considered by some to be embellished, and there was some question as to whether contact was made in the penalty area. Replays showed the foul was in the box, so the question was how necessary was the challenge the Union center back made. The player was running away from goal while receiving the pass. Alvaro Saborio stepped up for the spot kick, but was thwarted by Zac MacMath. The rebound was not dealt with, which led to a 6th minute goal from Luke Mulholland. Mulholland, from a recessed position before the kick, got a run up toward the 18-yard box and was the first one able to get to the ball. He slotted it calmly past the Union keeper, whose dive to make the initial save left him out of position for the secondary attempt.

The rest of the half, Union applied most of the pressure. Five corner kicks yielded zero shots on goal. Their closest to one came from newly acquired Andrew Wenger, who cleanly played an over-the-shoulder pass in front of himself, and lunged to get his foot underneath. The volley went over the RSL keeper, but landed on top of the crossbar, going out for a goal kick. Union also had the better of the possession through the first 45, holding the ball 52.8% of the time, not easily done against a veteran RSL side.

The second half saw a plethora of highlight plays. Philadelphia got on the board in the 55th minute via their newest player, Andrew Wenger. Wenger ran the left wing as Vincent Nogueira sent a perfectly-weighted lofted cross from the right. Wenger deftly chested the ball to his feet, and slotted it past onrushing RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. It was a nice payoff for Union continuing to have the majority of the possession.

That possession didn't get Union the lead however, and in the 85th minute, RSL pressed numbers forward and were rewarded. A loose ball in the 6-yard box was gotten to first by Austin Berry. With the highly-congested area, he had few choices of what play to make. He attempted to use his nearer foot to kick the ball off of an opponent's shin to then go over the end line for a goal kick. What happened instead was the ball deflected off of the onrushing Javier Morales, but it stayed in bounds. Morales made a perfect cut-back pass to a wide-open Kyle Beckerman, who side-footed his finish to regain the lead. It was the second time that a poor decision by Berry resulted in a goal allowed.

Down and desperate, Union cranked up the offense another notch in search of shared points. The final minute of regulation saw their prayers answered. Their lone corner kick of the second half was taken by Chaco Maidana, and found the head of Maurice Edu. Mo's shot kissed off the inside of the far post, giving Attinella no chance to keep it out. The Salt Lake keeper seemed to be frozen by the near-post run of Amobi Okugo, whose leaping attempt to get his head to the cross missed completely. It served as a useful decoy that allowed Union to once again overcome a deficit.

The match was marred by what appeared to be two potential penalty kicks not awarded to Union. Leo Fernandes was the player involved both times, as he was taken off of his feet by a clear trip just behind the spot for the first one. The referee immediately signaled that he felt the ball was touched by the defender, when replays clearly showed that not to be the case. Later in the match, Leo was running past Nat Borchers to get to the ball before it went over the end line when Borchers clipped Fernandes' heel, causing him to fall over in the far corner of the penalty area. The referee either considered the contact incidental, or thought the ball was out of reach for the Union forward. Either way, it made for many questions being asked of the officiating. A stoppage-time incident occured with RSL's Sebastian Velasquez, as he went to ground quite easily inside the 18, in a seemingly obvious attempt to get another chance at a PK. Union players immediately went to Velasquez to express their displeasure, but the referee kept his cards in his pocket. Officially, no cautions were issued, which belies how hard-fought a match this was. From an entertainment standpoint, it's a shame this is the only meeting of these teams this season.

Union don't have long to dwell on this match, as they have a Wednesday night fixture at Red Bull Arena vs New York Red Bulls.

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