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Game Changers - Rocky Mountain Highs and Lows

These were the decisions and moments that lead to an exciting 10 minutes of soccer between the Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids.

Trey Madara / Brotherly Game

1.) State of the Union - The Philadelphia Union headed out to Colorado almost immediately after the final whistle sounded in Orlando. Playing at altitude on just three days rest is bad enough, however when you factor in that was the Union's fifth game in just 18 days it becomes apparent just how brutal a stretch it has been for the club. Oh by the way, they are hosting Columbus Crew SC this Wednesday for its sixth game in 22 days before going on a much deserved break during the Copa America Centenario. Luckily for the Union, the only injuries were to Maurice Edu, with Vincent Nogueira and Josh Yaro dressed but on the bench. And Ilsinho is back from a hamstring injury that had sidelined him for the past few weeks.

2.) The first half was boring - While this normally wouldn't be a game changing moment, having a dull first half helped out the Union, who were able to gain some confidence against the best team in MLS without getting too gassed.

3.) The crossbar challenge - These are the sorts of things that didn't happen for the Union last season. The Colorado Rapids hit the crossbar not once...

but twice in the same match. (Don't worry - that video will be our next point.) Last season that hits the crossbar, random goalkeeper waves at it, it bounces off Rais M'Bolhi's contract and in. This season, the breaks are seeming to fall in the Union's favor. Dillon Powers should have not tried to rocket this on in, however luckily for the Union he struck the ball hard and rocked the woodwork.

4.) The Union's subs were... something? - Jim Curtin elected to bring on Ilsinho, Fabian Herbers, and Roland Alberg as his subs on the night. As a whole, the subs seemed to offer a slightly more offensive look, however at the expense of the methodical style of play that had served the Union well for the first 60 minutes. Ilsinho's technique and ball-handling skills opened up space more than Sebastien Le Toux's, however there was a bit of rust from the Brazilian and he looked out of place on a couple of instances. Fabian Herbers had a couple of good looks after coming on for Chris Pontius, but he is still very much a work in progress. Herbers spending the Copa America break getting minutes with Bethlehem Steel FC should help some with that. Roland Alberg came on for Tranquillo Barnetta, and we'll get to the impact he had in a few.

5.) Another crossbar, another lucky break - As if the Union weren't lucky enough, watch this sequence where Luis Solignac hits the crossbar and puts one past Andre Blake only to have it called back offside.

As lucky as the crossbar strike was, perhaps the luckiest of all was Kevin Doyle being ruled offside. When you slow it down and look closer, it looks like Richie Marquez kept him onside thanks to his trailing left foot.

Is Kevin Doyle onside or off?
Is Kevin Doyle onside or off?
Major League Soccer

Perhaps the AR saw something at his angle that the camera couldn't pick up, and even this screen shot isn't definitive. Again though, something last year that would not have gone in the Union's favor.

6.) Cronin the barbarian - Just as it seemed the Union were going to withstand the Colorado onslaught late in the game, this happened:

First, credit to Marc Burch for his sliding tackle at the beginning of the video. I've watched this video at least a dozen times and still don't know quite how he got that pass from Warren Creavalle back up into the Colorado attack. Second, this is just a fantastic play from Sam Cronin. He does a great job losing Roland Alberg and having the presence of mind to complete his run and get between Ken Tribbett and the cross from Marlon Hairston. For the Union though, Alberg simply can't allow Cronin to blow by him - he'd just come into the game and should have had the freshest legs of anyone. Hairston's cross was excellent, splitting both Tribbett and Marquez who were positionally sound on the cross. Brian Carroll could have also pushed back toward goal and could have intercepted Cronin, but he was drawn a bit upfield and more toward the Union's center-left part of the midfield (toward where Warren Creavalle was) while guarding Mekeil Williams.

7.) Captain Carroll - In the weekly press conference, Jim Curtin mentioned the preseason preparations the club made in the weight room specifically for instances like this. Down a goal late at altitude, the Union had to dig deep to come up with the equalizer. Brian Carroll became this week's unlikely hero who saved the day.

The cross from Ray Gaddis to Fabian Herbers was well-placed, and it was a great effort by Herbers to get it out to Carroll. But Carroll's left-footed finish past ex-Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath was something special. (Side note - was it satisfying to anyone else to see MacMath flailing helplessly at the goal like he did so often in a Union uniform?) Every off-season for the past couple of years, Union fans have wondered if it was the finish of Brian Carroll's long and illustrious career. And every year he comes back, continuing to play at the highest level. Go on BC - be the MLS Gordie Howe and play into your 50's.