To put it mildly, the Philadelphia Union have not had much success on the road in 2017. And despite the Union taking a first half lead into the locker room, the Union conceded twice in the 2nd half to walk away from Toyota Park 3-2 losers and victims of a Nemanja Nikolic hat trick.
The Chicago Fire got things started in the 3rd minute with a brilliant counterattacking goal. Brandon Vincent launched a long pass from his own third into the Union 18-yard box, past defender Jack Elliott, and into the waiting grasp of Golden Boot contender Nemanja Nikolic. Nikolic took a touch to line up his shot, then rocketed the ball past Andre Blake and into the back of the net to put the Chicago Fire up 1-0.
Things turned around in the first half rather quickly, though. Barely three minutes after the Fire struck first, the Union responded. Alejandro Bedoya played a nifty through ball which C.J. Sapong did very well to play across the face of the goal. Faced with Fafa Picault streaking toward the ball and goal, Johan Kappelhof decided he wanted to steal Fafa’s moment of glory for himself. With Chicago goalkeeper Matt Lampson pre-occupied with Sapong, Kappelhof executed a perfect sliding shot right into his own net to even the ledger. Snark aside, Bedoya and Sapong both did really well to force Kappelhof into an impossible clearance or to chance letting the ball go through to Picault with an open net to shoot at. Kappelhof chose the former, and the Union were rewarded with an own goal to even score at 1.
The quick start to the match continued seven minutes later. Haris Medunjanin played through a wonderful long chip into the box which Alejandro Bedoya leapt at and got a foot on, directing it to goal. Caught trying to play Bedoya, Lampson could only watch helplessly as the Union celebrated taking what for them has been a rare lead on the road this season.
The Union took the 2-1 lead into the half time break, but coming out into the 2nd half, the match was a different story. In the 63rd minute, with David Accam being pressured by Jack Elliott and forced to dribble the ball outside the Union 18-yard box, Jack Elliott inexplicably pulled Accam down triggering the referee’s whistle for a penalty kick. Nikolic stepped up to the spot, and drilled a wonderfully executed PK into the net. Blake did well to guess right and dive to the direction of the ball, but Nikolic kicked it too strong for Blake to get to in time and bat away, evening the match at two with a little more than a quarter of the match to go.
Since this is the 2017 Philadelphia Union playing on the road, naturally, things could not just stop here. Nope. Naturally, they had to concede again. Brandon Vincent, having already assisted on one Chicago Fire goal for the evening, played in a cross to Nikolic. Nikolic took a single touch to rocket the ball from the top center of the box, past a diving Andre Blake and into the corner of the net to give the Chicago Fire a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.
The Union may not have been able to equalize in the match, but in attempting to do so they provided a fantastic comedy lowlight. With the Union trying to equalize in stoppage time, Jay Simpson thought he could be the hero. Receiving the ball near the top of the box, Simpson let one rip. Simpson sent the ball flying not just over the net, but over the rows of seats behind it and off the bottom of the hanging jumbotron. To say Simpson missed the net by a mile, would be putting it lightly. The Union may have blown a lead (again) and lost on the road (again), but at least Simpson made us smile in the process.
Up next for the Union is their merciful season finale when they’ll play host to Orlando City next Sunday to close things out for 2017.