A stale offensive performance coupled with poor set-piece defending haunted the Philadelphia Union as they lost for the first time this season to the Los Angeles Galaxy by a 1-0 scoreline. The lone goal was headed in by defender Leonardo off a classic David Beckham free kick.
The game was characterized by a strange series of decisions by referee Paul Ward. In total, eight yellow cards and two red cards were issued, with each team losing a player to ejection. Chris Birchall was sent off in the 53rd minute for an elbow to the back of Carlos Ruiz's head, while Jack McInerney was shown red in 90th minute stoppage time for retaliating to a Chad Barrett tackle, although the camera crew of the Comcast Network broadcast was unable to get clear angles for either incident.
Philadelphia lacked creativity throughout the entire game, even when up a man. The Galaxy did well to hold their lead despite being at a disadvantage by running down the clock when they could and maintaining possession. Much more after the jump.
The Union saw hardly any of the ball during the first half as Los Angeles came out looking to dictate play. The Galaxy enjoyed several chances before Beckham delivered a perfect ball to Leonardo, who headed the ball into the goal to give Los Angeles the breakthrough that they deserved. The score remained that way at halftime, and the Union were probably lucky that scoreline was only 1-0.
Peter Nowak sent his players out with a renewed sense of purpose in the second half, and they generated some chances quickly. Keon Daniel was subbed in for Danny Mwanga, who played poorly. In the 53rd minute, Birchall was shown red for an unnecessary play on Ruiz, who also was issued a yellow for retaliation.
Despite having a man advantage, the Union were not able to muster many shots on goal. Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts had more work to do in the second half than he did in the first, but he never really seemed to be in trouble. Nowak put Roger Torres and Jack McInerney into the game for Kyle Nakazawa and Sheanon Williams, but despite their presences the Union could not break the Galaxy's defense.
Los Angeles continued to run the clock down, and Ricketts, Landon Donovan, and David Beckham all picked up yellow cards along the way for wasting time. Juan Pablo Angel missed a golden chance to score a dagger in the 79th minute.
The Union continued to have possession as the game reached stoppage time, but they could not create any real chances. In the 90th minute, the referee lost the script as he sent off Jack McInerney for retaliating to a Chad Barrett tackle that itself merited at least some sort of punishment. This was simply the last in a long series of strange decisions made by Paul Ward.
The final whistle then sounded as the Galaxy held on for their 1-0 win, the same scoreline that the Union had benefited from the previous two games. Despite losing for the first time in the 2011 season, Philadelphia still was provisionally all alone atop the Eastern Conference table with six points from three games, pending DC United's Sunday night trip to Colorado. The Union will continue league play next weekend at home against the New York Red Bulls, but will first take on DC United in a US Open Cup qualifying game on Wednesday, April 6 at the Maryland Soccerplex. Be sure to use this as your game reaction thread, and here are the full match highlights.