Playing their third game in eight days, the Philadelphia Union played like it Saturday night at Toyota Park. But thanks to a controversial late penalty call, the Union managed a 1-1 draw in a crucial road match that all things considered will have them sleeping well at night.
When the Union released their starting XI it was clear from the outset they were going to miss Cristian Maidana. Vincent Nogueira is an incredibly talented player, but he is not the same player as Maidana and Jim Curtin played Nogueira as he would play Maidana. It did not go well, and linking play from midfield to the forwards remained a constant issue for the Union throughout the entire match.
The first half was a mainly uneventful affair where the main highlights were Sheanon Williams sending a header wide of the net and Jeff Larentowicz heading a ball just over the bar off a corner kick. While no team threatened goal, security felt threatened when an idiot ran onto the pitch. Security quickly corralled Idiot On The Pitch but his quick foray onto the Toyota Park greenery remained the first half's most exciting highlight. Also, there is this.
41' Match paused for a fan that has entered the field here at Toyota Park. Possible @philaunion first in an away match.— The U Match Day (@TheUMatchDay) July 20, 2014
History was made tonight. Who would have thought?
At the start of the second half the Fire began to get a little bit more in the way of chances until they finally broke through in the 59th minute. Left alone by Maurice Edu, Jeff Larentowicz executed a brilliant header from a corner kick leaving Zac MacMath helplessly diving after a ball he was never going to get a touch on. The ball landed in the corner of the net, and the Fire had a deserved 1-0 lead. Edu, Ray Gaddis, Ethan White, and Sheanon Williams had all done good work up to that point making up for lack of a solid midfield presence. But one individual marking error on Edu's part had undone all of that and appeared to have certainly cost the Union any opportunity at taking points from this match.
The Union found an opportunity in the 70th minute to possibly come up with an equalizer when Le Toux got the ball at the edge and passed it to Edu more centrally located in the box, but Edu flubbed the shot. The ball traveled wide and out of play, and it appeared for all the world as if the Union's best chance to even the match had gone begging.
Referee Geoff Gamble came to the Union's rescue. Despite the fact that he flubbed a call in the 12th minute when he did not see Harrison Shipp off for denial of a goal scoring opportunity, he would flub another call in the 88th minute. With Sebastien Le Toux firing a shot from the top of the box, Gonzalo Segares ducked and tucked his arm into his body. However, the ball still found a way to carom off the outside that arm of Segares, culminating in a very dubious penalty decision from Gamble. Dubious though the call was, it was a much needed break for the Union who were robbed of the aforementioned clear-cut penalty in the first half. Add on to that this was a crucial match that was the third match and eight days, and the Union gladly took Gamble's get out of jail free card.
Le Toux stepped up to the line to take the penalty, and tucked it in low past a diving Sean Johnson to give the Union a much needed point. With no further action in the match save for MacMath hilariously milking a Bakary Soumare foul for all it was worth and then some, the Union escaped Toyota Park with a much needed, though perhaps a bit undeserved, 1-1 draw.
Next up for the Union is an exhibition match at PPL Park against English side Crystal Palace on a pre-season tour of the United States. Following that, they will return to MLS play August 1 when they play Sporting Kansas City on the road for the first time since the Union's shocking road upset in May.