For the second week in a row, referee decisions factored heavily into the outcome in a 2-0 loss for the Philadelphia Union at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday afternoon.
Christopher Penso whistled two penalties in the first half — one after video review that went the Union’s way — and ejected Marco Fabián in the second half with the help of video review after the Mexico international caught Johnny Russell in the rib when he tried to avoid a sliding challenge outside the 18.
“Marco (Fabián) is off balance and in the air; he’s twisting; he looks to land somewhere. He’s kind of entitled to land somewhere on the ground,” head coach Jim Curtin said of the play that took Fabián out of the game with a half hour to go and out of next week’s trip to Atlanta United. “If you do pause it exactly when his foot lands on the guy, then yeah, it looks bad of course. I think it’s a tough decision that went against us today on a day when a lot of things went against us.”
The Union were only down 1-0 at the time on a first half penalty Ilie Sánchez blasted into right corner of the net past a diving Andre Blake, but the game was more or less settled in the 80th minute when Jack Elliott stretched to stop a Gerso Fernandes cross and ended up deflecting it past the reach of Blake.
Fabián had his penalty kick saved by Tim Melia in the first half and the 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year did well when challenged a couple times in the second half to keep the clean sheet with four saves on the day. Three of the four shots on goal were registered by Cory Burke.
Curtin made only one change to his lineup from last week’s season opening 3-1 loss to Toronto FC home, inserting Warren Creavalle into the midfield.
While the Union played a fixture-wearied SKC team (playing its third game in eight days) close and the defense wasn’t as exposed as in week one, the offense was again lacking that final ball despite a couple of chances on set pieces and several turnovers produced by high pressure.
“I thought we were compact and organized aside from the penalty kick scramble,” Curtin said. “We didn’t give up a lot to a very good team. To me, Peter (Vermes) is one of the top coaches in our league and I think that’s one of the best teams in our league. On this very field, they’ve played some teams off the park already in Champions League. It’s something to build on.”
Talking up the opponent will do little to comfort a fanbase all too accustomed to slow starts and dropped points in March, especially with another tough road test coming in Atlanta against the defending MLS Cup champs with your marquee offseason acquisition unavailable.
But that’s where we are now, two weeks into a new era that looks so much like previous campaigns where points were scarce in March. Through two games, the new look Union attack has one goal and that came from the penalty spot last week. That CJ Sapong already has two goals with his new team only adds salt to the wound.
“Obviously, we’re frustrated that we weren’t able to even come away with a point given that I thought we played really well in the first half,” captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “We have another week to rest up and get ready for the next game. Atlanta is not an easier opponent, but we know we can play well on the road. We did it last year so hopefully we can turn it around sooner rather than later.”