Let's get one thing out of the way. The Philadelphia Union played brilliantly for 90 minutes tonight. Of that there is no question. But all that went to waste when the Union Keystone Kops'd a last second corner kick that allowed the Portland Timbers to tie the game and steal a point at Providence Park on the opening day of the season.
More on that in a moment, but first, let's take it from the top.
The first half, while goalless, was incredibly exciting and an unbelievable breath of fresh air after some of the slow, prodding, and feckless soccer the Union presented us last year. But it took a while for the proceedings to get going as the 3rd minute saw Will Johnson get a shot off the post thanks to his catching Ray Gaddis asleep at the back. Luckily Cristian Maidana was able to then clear the danger without any harm being done.
Maidana would make a consistent and positive presence in the first half, bringing creative juices to a midfield that last season had all the creativity of someone insulting bloggers by telling them they live in their mother's basements. Maidana made numerous beautiful runs and generated a magnificent turn and strike barely kept out of the net by a diving Donovan Ricketts who could only keep the ball in the box which ultimately led to a feeble shot from Sebastien Le Toux that easily traveled over the bar.
In the 32nd minute, Maidana created yet another scoring opportunity when he played a ball out wide to Jack McInerney who brilliantly chipped the ball over Ricketts in a manner that saw the ball curling towards goal and may have even gone in had it not been for Norberto Paparatto clearing the ball off the line.
Not everything went well for the Union in the first half, though. Despite having the better of play, there were a few missteps at the back. Fabinho picked up an early yellow card, placing him in danger for a second yellow with Darlington Nagbe carving him up. In the 39th minute, the Union had another defensive oopsie when Amobi Okugo's poor clearance gave Maximiliano Urruti a scoring opportunity that was deflected away for a corner by a recovering Okugo.
Once the second half began the Union continued their dominance of the run of play, especially up the middle where Okugo, Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Maidana controlled the match. That is not an easy feat either considering the Timbers have some strength of their own up the middle.
Eventually the Union would get their just rewards in the 64th minute when a corner earned by Maidana turned into a Union goal. Maidana took the corner, found Edu who flicked it on goal where McInerney was waiting to give it a decisive final re-direct past a helpless Ricketts and into the net. The lead Union was well and thoroughly deserved.
The rest of the half saw the Timbers try to drive play offensively, but they were never quite able to put a reasonable scare toward Zac MacMath's goal. They would seem to create apparent opportunities in the box but each time something went wrong for them, whether it was a mishit or a block or a giveaway. This ineptness combined with the Union's suffocating play made it appear as if the Union had three points wrapped in the bag.
Unfortunately though, 90 minutes of solid play was all undone in the last ten seconds of stoppage time. With time ticking down in stoppage time, Portland rushed to take a last second corner kick catching the Union unprepared. Will Johnson's corner had a chance to be cleared away harmlessly by Brian Carroll but after having a solid game he made a complete mess of it, inadvertently chipping it on goal to an unmarked Gaston Fernandez who evened the ledger at the death.
While an unfortunate result and unfortunate series of events that led to the game tying goal, that ten second lapse should not cloud what the Union did for 90 minutes tonight on a wet, sloppy turf against a good Portland side. The Union absolutely dominated this game and if they continue playing like they did tonight, some wins should absolutely be in their future this season. The huge leaps in progress the Union made during the off-season was visibly on display tonight.
Process is more important than outcomes, and everything about the Union's process was solid tonight. They had one lapse at the end, but not every lapse will be punished as cruelly as tonight's was. The Union played real well tonight, and had for 90 minutes plus two minutes and forty-five seconds of stoppage time what some may consider one of the best performances in franchise history. One lapse on a set piece should not alter the perception that the Union dictated the run of play throughout the game, something rarely seen before under John Hackworth. That's progress, and should it be a sign of things to come, this figures to be an extremely fun and successful 5th season for the Union.