If the Philadelphia Union needed a mulligan this season it was Saturday night in Sandy, Utah.
A disjointed first half where they struggled to string passes together and allowed an outside back enough space to hit a 60-yard ball to set up a goal gave way to a second half riddled with mistakes in the back that gifted Real Salt Lake a pair of goals en route to a 4-0 loss.
Even VAR didn’t go the Union’s way on three key decisions — the first on a possible red card tackle, the second on what would have been an Andrew Wooten on his first touch and a third that reversed a disallowed goal — on a night that can easily be called the worst of the 2019 campaign.
With Kai Wagner a late scratch and Jamiro Monteiro and Ilsinho both out of the lineup, head coach Jim Curtin handed veteran Fabinho his first start of the season and had Marco Fabian at the tip of the diamond for his second straight start. Neither player impressed.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player you couldn’t criticize, the ineptitude was so widespread. Even Andre Blake, who made a couple key stops before the floodgates opened, will be unhappy with himself for letting the first goal through.
After a first half marked by a couple of harsh challenges, the first from Damir Kreilach on Kacper Przybylko from behind was called a yellow and stood the video review, the second from Kyle Beckerman on Fabian and the RSL goal (Aaron Herrera to Jefferson Savarino, who beat Auston Trusty en route to the finish), Curtin subbed in Sergio Santos for Brenden Aaronson and tweaked the formation.
The change saw the Union rebound for a time, but not enough to grab any real momentum in the game or create chances beyond set pieces (chalk up nine more corners without a goal). RSL made it 2-0 in the 71st off the first of two defensive blunders when Fafa Picault had a slight collision/miscommunication with Haris Medunjanin and the ball ended up being left weakly for Beckerman to collect and pass to Savarino for the quick counter strike to beat Blake.
Curtin used his last sub (Anthony Fontana came in for the ineffective Fabian) to give Andrew Wooten his debut in the 76th minute and the striker nearly announced his arrival in grand fashion with a strong finish off an endline cross from Medunjanin but VAR ruled that the ball had crossed the line when Haris hit it. Instead of headlines, Wooten’s first action in a Union uniform will go down as a future meme for an oft-tortured fanbase that is starting to look for the life vests (just in case) after tonight’s letdown.
Three minutes after VAR took Wooten’s goal off the board, Ray Gaddis made a mistake even more inconceivable than the earlier gaffe from Fafa and Haris when he turned a fairly routine play into a turnover and a quick strike from Albert Rusnák off a back pass from Savarino.
As if that wasn’t enough punishment for the night, RSL made it 4-0 eight minutes later on a goal from the guy who was lucky twice to not be sent off in the first half (the first time for getting a yellow instead of a red on the Kacper tackle, the second for being offsides on a would be yellow for an intentional handball).
Thanks to an extra game played and a recent skid for D.C. United, the Union remain four points clear at the top of the East standings but they dropped to second in points per game behind New York City FC, which currently has five games in hand. They dropped to 10 points back of LAFC in the Supporters Shield race they’re never going to win anyway.