The Philadelphia Union entered today's home game versus the Colorado Rapids optimistic following a big win in the U.S. Open Cup. But once Michael Lahoud picked up a red card up 3-1 in the second half, all good things fell apart faster than Brazil in the World Cup as the Union left PPL Park level at 3-3 and angry over an early first half non-call and an inexplicable Amobi Okugo post-match red card for dissent.
The fireworks began in the 11th minute when Shane O'Neill went into a tackle on Danny Cruz studs-up, injuring the aggressive Union winger. Referee Sorin Stoica showed O'Neill yellow for his reckless tackle, but a straight red card would not have been undeserved. Given how the match ended up going, it is one the Union would have badly liked to see.
Things did not go downhill right away, though. In fact, five minutes after O'Neill's tackle on Cruz, the Union responded on the scoreboard with one of their finest goals of the season. Casey passed the ball across the pitch to Ray Gaddis, who crossed the ball into the box where Casey was making a run. Casey received the cross and supplied an absolutely magnificent volley rendering Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin helpless as Casey and his Union teammates celebrated a deserved 1-0 lead.
The joy of the lead was vanquished by Colorado almost immediately. With Fabinho caught out of position, Dillon Serna became the second person to make Akron proud in the last 36 hours. Serna found some space following the Union's defensive collapse and from the top of the box placed the ball perfectly in the right corner of the net, evening the game at 1.
The Union would be the ones to get the next goal 13 minutes later. Cruz passed to Fabinho making a run at the edge of the box. Fabinho then crossed it back into the box to Cruz who forced a fine save from Irwin. With Irwin having pushed the ball out for a corner kick, Maidana took it and placed the ball well into the box where Sheanon Williams was able to latch onto it with a header that beat Irwin and put the Union ahead 2-1 still in the first half.
The Colorado Rapids attempted to equalize late in the first half, but a comedy of errors culminating in an embarrassing Deshorn Brown whiff that Ethan White easily blocked away thwarted the Rapids best opportunity in the final minutes of the first half. The Union found themselves ahead 2-1 at the break and you were hard-pressed to find a person who did not believe it was truly deserved.
The second half began with not much in the way of quality chances for either side. The Rapids were content to attempt numerous hopeful shots from distance that never really had much of a chance of going in, and the Union appeared satisfied to let Colorado make a living out of low percentage attempts. But things picked back up in the 63rd minute when Sebastien Le Toux was just a hair offside following a Michael Lahoud shot that Irwin spilled right to Le Toux. Le Toux had shot the ball in the net, but the linesman correctly ruled Le Toux was a fraction offside. The goal was disallowed, much to the chagrin of Seba and the Union.
The Union appeared to clinch the match and all three points in the 75th minute, though. While Le Toux's goal did not count, this one from second half substitute Andrew Wenger did. Okugo had made a great run into the box where he was fouled at least twice. He got a cross off that deflected off Rapids defender Jared Watts right onto the waiting foot of Wenger who just before falling down successfully poked it past Irwin and the goalline to put the Union up 3-1, seemingly seeing through their first home win in league play since March 15.
Things took a tragic turn for the Union late in the match when going for a free kick in the box, Lahoud's overhead kick caught Watts in the face. Stoica immediately presented Lahoud a straight red card*. Even though Lahoud had been going for the ball, the fact that he missed the ball and caught Watts in the face was enough for the official, who also awarded the Rapids a penalty for the foul in the box. Dillon Powers stepped up to the spot to take the penalty kick. With MacMath diving left, Powers chipped his penalty kick to the right, landing it in the upper corner of the net and pulling the Rapids within a goal with 11 minutes plus stoppage time remaining.
*If not a red card, Stoica would have been well within his reason to present Lahoud a yellow card there. And given that Lahoud had already picked up a yellow in the 29th minute, that play would have been enough to see Lahoud off regardless of the color of the card Stoica pulled out.
With the Union clinging to a one-goal lead down a man, the Rapids pounced on them. Brown bobbled a pass intended for him just outside the box but he got a lucky bounce as it rolled in MacMath's direction and Brown was able to attach himself to the ball before the Union central defense could close in. Brown rocketed the ball past MacMath, pulling the Rapids level. The goal shocked the Union and the partisan crowd at PPL Park who thought surely their team had done enough to walk out of the match with three points.
The Union had one last golden opportunity to regain the lead, and it occurred in the 88th minute. Capitalizing on a poorly defended free kick from distance, Okugo latched his head onto the free kick directing the ball towards goal only to be denied by a fingertip save from Irwin. The ball was forced out for a corner, and with the Union down a man, the rest of the match saw the Rapids control the lion's share of possession. The Union never got another opportunity to get the lead back, and following four minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew signaling the end of the match and a 3-3 draw. In a home dominated league like MLS, leaving home with only a draw is always going to be at least a tad dis-spiriting, but the manner in which the Union dropped points today was borderline heart-breaking.
After the match, emotions boiled over on the pitch. In a post-game interview with 6ABC's Heather Mitts, Union manager Jim Curtin stated "they actually gave another red card unfortunately to Amobi Okugo. They said it was for dissent." Curtin later added his confusion over the fact that dissent is normally punished with a yellow card, not a red card. CBS3's Kevin Kinkead provides the following clarification:
"Dissent by word or action" is a cautionable offense (yellow card)— Kevin Kinkead (@KevinKCBS3) July 13, 2014
"using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures" is a sending-off offense (red card)— Kevin Kinkead (@KevinKCBS3) July 13, 2014
What Okugo did or did not say to Stoica remains a mystery. Stoica did not give any interviews or provide any comment or clarification on his end following the match. Curtin further expressed his disappointment in the officiating to Mitts even adding "the guy in the middle makes it about him a little bit tonight."
Up next for the Union is a mid-week fixture against their northern rivals New York Red Bulls. The Union will not be going anywhere, though, as this game will also be played at PPL Park and for the first time this season will be available nationally on ESPN2. After tonight's disappointment, a win at home against one of their biggest rivals would certainly be a nice remedy.