All the signs before kickoff were pointing to a pasting for the Union but the mysterious, unknowable lady that is the beautiful game gave us a sly little wink - and what we thought was going to be just a goodnight peck on the cheek quickly turned in to one of the wildest nights of our life.
There have been improbable road wins before (LA Galaxy in 2012, anyone?) but the Union's 2-1 smash and grab against the best team in the league, Sporting Kansas City, on Wednesday night was nothing short of stunning. Not especially for the quality of play by a desperately disjointed Union outfit that was winless in nine games, but for all the drama that exploded in to action in the second half.
With both Maurice Edu and Brian Carroll unavailable the under pressure John Hackworth matched up SKC's 4-3-3 with a midfield three of Amobi Okugu, rolling back the years to play as a central defensive midfielder, flanked by Cristian Maidana on the left and Vincent Nogueira on the right. A returning Sheanon Williams partnered a still shaky looking Austin Berry in the center half position and Union fans were understandably nervous. Surely the quick passing and intelligent movement of the likes of Graham Zusi, Matt Bieler, and Benny Feilharber would cut right through the makeshift midfield missing both its enforcer and the calming presence of its veteran captain. And yet...
Content to concede possession (a whopping 66% for SKC) the Union did what every team in the league has been doing to them and simply sat deep, clogged passing lanes, and allowed the opposition to stroke the ball around as much as they liked as long as it was outside the eighteen yard box. By electing not to press until the very last minute and being happy to give the ball away the Union were able to conserve their energy in midfield.
As usual the whole team looked to the mercurial Nogueira whenever they needed bailing out of trouble and the Union goal was never really threatened until Zac MacMath was in the right place at the right time to instinctively bat away a Sal Zizzo header in the 33rd minute. The same player was denied by another good MacMath save in the dying moments of the first half as Zac stayed big and played his angles well to deny a strong shot to the near post.
A fairly lifeless SKC continued in to the second half until all of a sudden the game sprang to life like Frankenstein's monster, complete with all the same ugliness, chaos, unpredictability, and unexpected beauty of that poor creature. From a routine throw in, Maidana was allowed acres of space down the left wing after an intelligent flick in to the channel by Leo Fernandes sprung the wily Argentinean. Instead of haring and blasting at goal, Chaco chose to draw the keeper and shoot across goal - Eric Kronberg could only parry the shot and ole hustle Danny Cruz was the one who wanted it more to toe-poke home from a couple of yards out. The celebration that followed saw the whole team very consciously racing over to the bench to embrace their embattled coach in what could be seen as a show of support for their leader or as an 'eff you' to the fans who booed Hackworth this past Saturday. Who cares when you are one nil up on the road?
Alas the lead was like the monster's day in the sun and it did not last long. Playing the role of the angry villagers with pitch forks and flaming torches was substitute Dom Dwyer who in the 80th minute crashed home a quality striker's finish, curling a beauty from the edge of the box in to the top corner past a stationary MacMath. The goal had been coming as the Union were sitting deeper and deeper, nervously swatting away SKC attacks like a confused toddler confronted by a gang of angry wasps.
But almost within the time it took for the last of the celebratory streamers from the stands to hit the ground the Union went up the other end and once again took the lead. A nothing ball lumped in to the box found Wenger who was quickly surrounded by light blue shirts, however SKC were doing their best Union back four impression and as five defenders collapsed around Wenger he shuffled the ball across the box to a wide open Maidana. Despite being on his weaker right foot Chaco coolly slotted home the easy finish to stun the home crowd. With both midfields starting to tire the game finally turned in to a good old fashioned MLS kick-n-rush, WWE-style rock-em-sock-em showdown for a wild final ten plus minutes.
Cruz limped off at 83 mins to be replaced by Sebastien Le Toux - okay, no biggie. But the real fun began five minutes later as Nogueira succumbed to cramp and was replaced by Corben Bone (remember him?) whose first action, within ten seconds of coming on, was to body slam Uri Rosell. From the resultant free kick, not more than fifteen seconds later, Bone came flying in with both feet off the ground and clattered in to Peterson sending him up in the air. The tackle was incredibly late and he was clearly out of control so it was not a surprise to see the red card issued to end an extraordinary performance from Bone. With four or so minutes remaining the Union managed to see out the game to take an as unlikely three points as we may see all season. What a fickle mistress this beautiful game truly is.