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Breaking down the Union's late game collapses

Philadelphia Union fans have witnessed an unfair number of heartbreaking matches recently. The latest collapse against New England was just one in a long line of terrible finishes. Go ahead and lie down on the couch for this one. The best therapy is to face your demons.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If soccer games ended after 75 minutes, the Philadelphia Union would be considered a constant threat in MLS' Eastern Conference. They boast an 18-14-10 (W-L-D) record since the beginning of the 2014 season after just 75 minutes of play. That's good enough for 52 points per season. Think about that for a second. John Hackworth would likely still be the coach. He was 7-5-4 in the first 75 minutes in 2014. Nick Sakiewicz might be a contender for his third MLS Executive of the Year Award, and he and Rais M'Bolhi might both be beloved by the fans. Unfortunately, the games march on into the 76th minute, and the Union turn themselves into one of the worst teams in MLS.

Of the 18 games that the Union have carried a lead into the 76th minute, they have dropped points in 8 of them for a total of 18 points. In games where they enter the 76th minute tied or losing they have only gotten back 3 points. That's 15 points lost in the last 15 minutes and extra time.

For those that have the stomach to relive the tragic moments here are the images from most those key collapses, plus a bonus clip.


March 9th, 2014 at Portland Timbers - Gaston Fernandez ties score at 1-1 in 90'+4'.


The Union are burned by an unmarked man off a corner kick.

March 29th, 2014 at PPL Park against Montreal Impact - Marco Di Vaio scores in 80'.

late montreal goal 2014

Di Vaio enters the box with only 3 Union defenders. Too much space for one of the league's best scorers.

April 5th, 2014 at Chicago Fire - Juan Luis Anangono scores in 86'.

chicago late goal 2014

More unmarked players from a set piece. Don't forget that Zac MacMath saved a penalty kick in extra time that avoided a complete disaster in this game.

May 3rd, 2014 at Seattle Sounders - Chad Marshall ties the score in 84'.

Sounders late goal 2014

Corner kick. Goal.

June 7th 2014 at PPL Park against Vancouver Whitecaps - Penalty kick by Pedro Morales draws match in 81'.

Vancouver late goal

Another breakaway forces MacMath to think he needs to make a play (and he fails to make a play).

July 12th 2014 at PPL Park against Colorado Rapids - A 79' penalty kick to Dillon Powers and an 86' goal by Deshorn Brown end the game in a draw.

Colorado late goal 1 2014

Michael Lahoud's accidental kick in the face is pretty unfortunate.

colorado late goal 2 2014

Absolutely no defender in the box, despite the lead, as Deshorn Brown finds the corner.

October 2nd 2014 at PPL Park against Chicago Fire - Robert Earnshaw steals M'Bolhi shanked pass and earns the Fire a 1-1 draw in 90'+2'. To be fair, this is the bonus clip. The Union entered the 76th minute in a draw so this one doesn't count as an official collapse even though it might be the most memorable heartbreak of all.

Columbus late goal 1 2014

The team was playing up expecting a long pass from M'Bolhi but he famously shanks the pass, and unfortunately it lands right at the feet of Earnshaw who calmly finishes M'Bolhi's nightmare.

October 11th 2014 at PPL Park against Columbus Crew - Three goals scored after the 77th minute and the Union lose 3-2.

columbus 2 lat goal 2014

Again the Union are scrambling back with 4 or 5 defenders in the box and get beat  one on one.

March 14th 2014 at Real Salt Lake - Alvaro Saborio penalty kick in 86' ties game.

RSL late goal 2015

Unanimously considered a poor penalty call by the referee. The Union can chalk this one up to bad luck.

April 5th 2015 at Sporting Kansas City - the Union allow two extra time goals and lose the lead for just the seventh time in MLS history.

The Union lack all shape for what is essentially a free kick and the rookie Raymond Lee missing his mark.

skc late goal 2 2015

Another set piece breakdown.

April 19th 2015 at PPL Park against New England Revolution - And last weekend Teal Bunbury's run is rewarded in the 76th as New England pulls out the road win. This is actually only the second time the Union wasted a single point after the 75th minute.

NE collapse 2015

The Union allowed 4 set piece goals, 3 penalty kicks and a number of goals on the counterattack that found the Union with few defenders in the box. But if you distribute two of the penalty kicks two clear patterns emerge. One of the penalty kicks came from a breakaway foul. The other was off a set piece. So that's 5 goals from a set piece and the rest are essentially from counterattacks and defensive breakdowns with too few numbers in the box. You would think that at least one of the goals would be from an unstoppable brilliant shot. But that's clearly not the case. The breakdowns are brutal.

The run of play issues tend to be situations where the Union defense is caught too high up when their opponent received the ball, there are clearly issues with the team maintaining shape. Here is a frozen image of the Union defense just before the breakdown in Sporting Kansas City earlier in April. This pass was just a few passes after a set piece attempt so the shape shouldn't be too chaotic, but chaos is what we see. For comparison purposes there is an image of Crystal Palace killing off time against Manchester City in their recent 2-1 upset win. Both the Union and Crystal Palace were in similar situations. They were up 2-1 late and getting bombarded by their opponent hungry for the equalizer.

Union compated to Palance

Notice the Union's shape is narrow and deep and the players are caught out of their positions. The entire back four is positioned to the left of the far post. CJ Sapong and Brian Carroll fill out the defense to the right. Lahoud for some reason is making himself the 2nd man to chase the ball and leaving the 18 yard box. Steven Vitoria and Maurice Edu are spread very far apart.

Crystal Palace isn't in perfect shape but they have 5 defenders in the box who are wider and more narrow than the Union. They have better pressure on the ball but to be fair the ball is closer to the box in this particular case. The Crystal Palace player leaving the box is looking to cut off a pass to a central Manchester City player. He's not leaving for the ball because someone is already on the ball and he recognizes he's too far away, unlike Lahoud.

While Crystal Palace is clearly a better football team than the Union it's not their talent that keeps their form. It's simply a disciplined understanding of how to defend as a unit.

What are the odds of these breakdowns?

It certainly needs to be asked: just how bad is this? How rare are these collapses that have left fans crestfallen way too often in such a short period of time? I turned to data provided by American Soccer Analysis that looks at the probability of outcomes based on the score of the game and the time of the game. For example, when a home team enters the 76th minute in a draw, they win 27% of the time.

Here is a look at the probabilities of winning, losing or drawing based on the situation going into the 76th minute.

Union collapse win graph

An average MLS team would have actually surrendered 7.4 of the points that the Union did. But the Union were responsible for the travesty of giving up an additional 10.6 points. For the stat geeks that is indeed statistically significant with 95% confidence. No bad luck here.

draw collapse

The gap is not as bad when the Union enter the 76th in a draw. They've earned 1.1 points less than the average MLS team would have, but that's relatively minor.

union collapse losing graph

The Union have actually earned more than their share of draws when losing by a goal after 75 minutes. However, they perform right at the MLS average in these instances.

To sum all of this up the Union are roughly average when they enter the last 15 minutes tied or losing, but they are tragically bad when they have a lead. Overall they've given up about 12 points more than an average MLS team over the last 42 games and that has has plunged them to the bottom of the league.

The late goals are a combination of set piece goals and defensive breakdowns off of a counterattack where the defense was not set in the box. The troubling issue with all this is that the Union are an excellent counterattacking team themselves. They purposely sit back and absorb an opponent's offensive pressure only to spring an attack on them when they gain possession. The fact that they are getting out-counterattacked when they have a lead is astounding. There does not appear to be a commitment to keeping the shape as the game wears on. Perhaps the players are getting tired and losing concentration. Either way, the excuses have to end and the problems need to get resolved.

There more analysis to be done on the breakdowns. Be on the look out for a future breakdown of shots allowed and the locations of those shots late in games.

All MLS images from and the Premier League image is from Sky Sports