Every time the Philadelphia Union seem like they've reached rock bottom, they discover a previously unknown new low. Every time it seems like the Union will stagnate as simply bad, they conjure up a moment of unmagic that leaves fans in awe of the awfulness. That's what happened tonight when the Union carried a 2-1 lead into 2nd half stoppage time, and lost the match 3-2.
Things started out all right for the Union. They earned a quick corner kick taken by Sebastien Le Toux which resulted in a goal when Luis Marin missed the ball completely, leading it to deflect off Jacob Peterson and into the net. It was yet another own goal in the Union's favor, but given the Union's lack of ability to put the ball in the net on their own, they weren't about to complain. It was all clownshoes for the SKC, and the Union were ahead.
The clownshoes would soon enough be on the other foot 13 minutes later. Benny Feilhaber took a corner kick of his own that found Dom Dwyer alone for the easy header made easier by Rais M'Bolhi coming out of his net for the ball and missing wildly. M'Bolhi proceeded to bury his head in his hands and fake an injury, because there really is no other recourse after looking that bad on national television. 16 minutes in, and the match was level at one.
Then three minutes later all the jokes about all the goalkeeping mistakes would subside. Le Toux's free kick into the box was headed in absolutely brilliantly by Fernando Aristeguieta. The power Aristeguieta got behind the header was nothing short of awe-inspiring. A lot of negative words will be written about the Union later in this recap and later this week, but none of them should have anything to do with Aristeguieta. He has had himself a fine season and this goal was marvelous, only mired by the fact FS1 color commentator Alexi Lalas decided to use the term "set piece orgy" shortly thereafter to describe the first 19 minutes of the match. Either Lalas does not know what an orgy is, or he lives a kinky personal life.
If the first 19 minutes were a "set piece orgy," the following 71 minutes were a goal disallowed orgy. It started with Sporting having a goal ruled back because Dom Dwyer was offside. Then in the second half, Aristeguieta had a goal disallowed because the assistant's referee flag went up.* Dom Dwyer appeared as if he had scored again a few minutes later, but the officials correctly ruled that Ray Gaddis cannot be used as a stepping stone prior to scoring a goal. Dwyer violated that rule, and SKC were punished appropriately by having the ensuing goal not count.
*Get your head out of the gutter, Alexi!
The Union were able to miraculously recover from an 84th minute scramble that came as a result of M'Bolhi missing the ball. It seemed that they might be able to pull the upset, then had a golden opportunity to put it away. Aristeguieta had stripped Roger Espinoza of the ball resulting in Nando getting a complete breakaway on goal. Espinoza succeeded in catching up to Aristeguieta and tackling him outside of the ball, leading the ball to find the foot of Le Toux. That set up Le Toux being 1-on-1 with Luis Marin, and Le Toux's shot got past Marin but hit the woodwork and bounced out to an alone Michael Lahoud. With the game at his foot and a gaping net facing him, Lahoud launched the ball into orbit instead. It was a heart-breaking moment for the Union, and one that would come back to bite them soon enough.
The unraveling began in stoppage time with a set piece. The Union have struggled in defending set pieces all season long and it would bite them in the ass again when a Sporting free kick found Aristeguieta in the box who headed outside of the box only for it to land at the feet of Espinoza. Espinoza sent it into the box where an unmarked Jalil Anibaba got a head on it and sent it slowly past a flailing M'Bolhi and into the net for the equalizer.
With there being six minutes of stoppage time total, a goal within the first minute of stoppage time meant there was plenty of time for a winner. And indeed, the winner was snatched by Sporting in the fourth minute of stoppage time. And again, it came from a set piece. Feilhaber swung a corner kick into the box that Matt Besler flicked to Krisztian Nemeth who put the ball into the back of the net for the shock SKC winner, and embarrassing Union loser. The Union would not threaten in the final couple minutes of stoppage time, and the Union disgrace was complete.
It takes disasters like tonight's game to call attention to problems that have always been there. Tonight's game taught us nothing new about the team. Rais M'Bolhi made mistakes? Been there done that. The Union lack depth? That's been a problem for years. The Union don't have space to add depth because they mis-allocated funds to M'Bolhi last season? No funds were re-allocated in any direction tonight, except for maybe some fans deciding not to spend money on this clusterfuck next Saturday. Jim Curtin is in over his head? His lack of managerial resume before being appointed interim-turned-permanent Union manager was always a red flag.
But these problems that have always been bubbling beneath the surface of U.S. Open Cup runs and "well they got close to the playoffs at least" have risen from beneath and penetrated through. The Union are a poorly run franchise with a manager who is not good enough and roster that, few exceptions aside, is unacceptable. The Union need to rebuild. And it must start with rebuilding the very top of the organization.
The Union's next two games will come against a team starting David Villa, and isn't that just the best?