The Philadelphia Union were hoping to be on a three game win streak as they took on D.C. United at RFK stadium on Saturday night. So far, while struggling against other teams, Philadelphia had a record of 3 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss against their "local rivals." It was a record that would suggest a team near the top of the league instead of struggling at the bottom. At the same time as a return to the mean suggests that they would get wins against other teams, it suggests that they wouldn't be able to keep up that record against the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, New England Revolution, and United. Their winning run ended with a late loss, as a Chris Rolfe penalty got all three points for DC. How did we get to that point and outcome?
1. Steve Birnbaum dallying on the ball.
One thing that Jim Curtin would have loved to get was a quick start, and that's what happened. Wenger did well to not give up after Birnbaum had won the ball back for D.C., and while Birnbaum took a little too much time, Wenger got the ball and gave it to Le Toux who made no mistake.
In last week's win at Red Bull Arena, after the first goal Andrew Wenger began playing well again. He continued that with this assist, as well as nearly getting a second goal later on when his shot crashed against the crossbar. Sebastien Le Toux also seemed rejuvenated after his goal, sending in a shot that would have stung Bill Hamid's hands and then racing away before being pulled down in the second half (more on that later).
As much as scoring the early goal, maybe it is the sign of the two wingers turning things around that was more pleasing for Jim Curtin.
2. The team switching off too early.
As pleasing as the play and chances the Union had early in the game was, unfortunately they were ready for half time a little too quickly. With stoppage time approaching and the Union getting ready for the break, both Cristian Maidana and Fernando Aristeguieta allowed Bill Hamid time to make a long clearance. The bank of four behind (Wenger, Vincent Noguiera, Brian Carroll and Le Toux) were in space, and the defense was settled around the edge of the box. Then Richie Marquez lost the header, and Fabinho headed the second ball into space in the middle.
At that point, Le Toux and Carroll didn't put enough effort into getting the ball, and it ended up going out to Taylor Kemp with the midfield suddenly out of position. This was especially true for Le Toux who got sucked inside and gave Kemp far too much room. The effort was still not there to get out to close him down by either Le Toux or Sheanon Williams, and the ball was sent in for Chris Pontius to head home.
United are a good team, and Kemp can put a great ball into the box. There is just no excuse to give them that much room to play in. If the Union had just managed to to work that little bit harder for one more minute, it could have been a different outcome.
3. Slow on the subs.
The weather was hot and when that happens, players run out of steam quicker than normal. This is especially true when players run all over the place as the Union do. It was also obvious at around the 60th minute mark that Maidana was running out of steam, and though it is speculative, one has to wonder if the uptick in minutes for 33-year old Brian Carroll were taking their toll.
The substitutions from D.C. United were made in the 65th, 73rd and 75th minute. Philadelphia made their subs on the 72nd, 81st and 89th minute. It seemed more of a reactive than a proactive approach to substitutions. When Jairo Arieta came on for DC United, it completely changed the complexion of the game, and nothing that Jim Curtin did changed that.
If Jim had made the subs earlier would it have made a difference? Possibly not. However, there has to be questions on why he waited so long to make substitutions on a hot day when the team had put so much effort into the early part of the game.
4. Lack of a red card (or two).
While there may be no arguments for the penalty decision (more on that in a minute), there were a few major moments that referee Ted Unkel decided to not send a deserving DC United player off. This all happened within a few minutes of each other.
First up in the 63rd minute, Vincent Noguiera was deservedly yellow carded for a foul on Chris Rolfe, however, what happened after was violent conduct on the part of Rolfe. He deliberately kicked out at Vincent Noguiera, something that is an automatic red card. Perhaps the referee or assistant did not have a good look at it, but this screenshot suggets otherwise.
You can obviously see here that referee Ted Unkel had a perfect view of Rolfe's dirty play. Was he too interested in yellow carding Noguiera that he completely ignored the kick? I really can't think of any plausible reason for him missing it.
From the resulting free kick, the Philadelphia Union raced on a counter attack, only for Le Toux to be dragged down by Pontius. Referee Unkel gave the free kick, and everyone was waiting for the red card that was bound to follow for denial of a goalscoring opportunity. However, much to the chagrin of the Union, Pontius only saw yellow.
Le Toux had control of the ball, was likely to have a shot at goal, and no one was within about ten yards of him. All of the boxes should have been checked for a red card. Within a few minutes, United should have been down to nine men, and that would have been a very different game.
5. Zach Pfeffer's hand ball.
When you had a glance at social media after the game, it was full of people who were arguing over the penalty decision. The rule book was looked out, the words "deliberate" and "ball to hand or hand to ball" tweeted around. Zach Pfeffer knocked the ball away with the use of his hand. The assistant referee, perhaps also seeing Pfeffer's little hand movement, decided that it was a "deliberate hand ball", and awarded the penalty. Although harsh, penalty was the right call.
Other than the unfortunate penalty, you can look back at other game changing hints for how the game swung. Yet again, the Union gave Chris Korb far too much time to get a cross in. This time, Maidana was supposed to be the winger marking Korb, while Le Toux was chasing the ball to the left wing. It had looked like Maidana was tired from the 60th minute on, so having him trying to lock down the right side was likely a mistake.
So after all that, the Union are back to being the losing team. This time, however, it wasn't an embarrassing defeat, and if not for a great save by Hamid, Aristeguieta would have a goal of the week candidate. Wenger had a shot that came off the cross bar as well. However, it is all for naught as United took all three points thanks to many questionable decisions.