Amid rainy, windy, and generally miserable weather conditions at PPL Park, the Philadelphia Union allowed a late equalizer to the Seattle Sounders FC's Alvaro Fernandez and drew 1-1.
The Union's lone goal was scored by Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz after his free kick took a deceiving dip in midair and got past goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Unlike in their three wins this season, the Union were made to pay for failing to find a second goal. The Union had won three games so far in 2011 by a 1-0 score but after the Ruiz goal they were wasteful with their chances and paid the price.
But also unlike in their previous games, Philadelphia actually managed to control the ball and enjoyed sustained possession for large portions of the game. In this one, the problem seemed to be the team's finishing instead. Much more after the jump, including the full match highlights.
Coach Peter Nowak came out with a somewhat natural 4-4-2, instead of the 4-3-3 that he had been using previously. Keon Daniel and Kyle Nakazawa started out on the wings while Stefani Miglioranzi and Amobi Okugo were given the start in the middle. Sebastien Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz were the forwards while the usual back line started once again.
The formation change seemed to be working early in the first half as the Union controlled most of the possession. Both teams enjoyed half-chances but neither team really threatened much on goal.
That all changed in the 31st minute when Kyle Nakazawa gained control of the ball on the right side of the field and danced around the penalty area before being taken down hard by Osvaldo Alonso. The Cuban was issued a yellow card for the hard challenge, but that was of little concern to the Sounders after what happened next.
Ruiz struck the free kick well and it may have even taken a slight deflection. Regardless, it had a lot of movement and that was enough to beat Keller, who couldn't do anything but watch it fly into the back of his net. The fans that actually made it out to PPL Park were momentarily oblivious to the torrential conditions as they joined in the trademark DOOP song.
As the first half ended and the second half began, the Union continued to enjoy the majority of the possession.Both Le Toux and Okugo had solid chances as they unleashed shots on Keller's goal but the former USA international was up to the task.
But eventually Seattle coach Sigi Schmid decided to make a change and he did what few coaches in MLS are even capable of doing when he brought two Designated Players off the bench in Fredy Montero and Alvaro Fernandez.
The two had an instant impact and almost gave Seattle an equalizer in the 78th minute when Fernandez grabbed a rebound and unleashed a shot on goal only for it to be saved off the line by Union defender Danny Califf.
In the end, it wa those two who made the difference as Montero gained control of the ball off a Seattle corner kick in 90th minute stoppage time. He delivered a cross into the box and Fernandez skied over the Union defenders to head it in the goal off the inside of the post. The Union pressed late into the three minutes of added time for another late twist but they couldn't get one as referee Terry Vaughn blew the final whistle.
The result left a sour taste in fans' mouths as the Union were only minutes away from getting all three points; in fact, it was reminiscent of the 2010 season when Philadelphia would tie games that they almost had won and lose games that they just nearly had tied. But the draw with Seattle still left the Union atop the Eastern Conference with 10 points from five games.
For the first time, we finally have some detailed stats from the game courtesy of MLSsoccer.com and Opta Sports. The Union actually ended up with slightly less of the possession as the breakdown was 48.6% to 51.4% in favor of the Sounders. The Union did manage to complete 73% of their passes, though, compared with 67% for Seattle. Ironically, Philadelphia managed to get 18 crosses off in open play to Seattle's 13, but it was the Sounders who ended up equalizing the game on a cross when all was said and done.
The Union will now have a two week period to rest and recover before their next game April 30th at PPL Park against the San Jose Earthquakes, who were dominated Saturday night in a 3-0 loss to the Nee York Red Bulls. The Union were originally scheduled to play away to Real Salt Lake on April 23rd, but that game has been rescheduled to accommodate RSL's appearance in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Here are the full match highlights: