Mark McKenzie’s late strike cancelled out a disastrous minute in which the Union conceded a corner kick goal to Donovan Pines and a questionable PK on Alejandro Bedoya that Yamil Asad converted to put the hosts up 2-1 at Audi Park on Wednesday night. Birthday boy Anthony Fontana scored the opener to give the Union a 1-0 lead early in the second half.
With the draw and with Columbus dropping points in a loss to FC Cincinnati, the Union remain firmly in second place in the Eastern Conference behind Toronto but missed an opportunity to gain ground after Toronto’s draw with the New York Red Bulls. The Union are still three points off the lead and will now have their sights on catching Toronto when the two teams meet at Subaru Park in ten days.
Last place D.C. United snapped a five game losing streak and avenged their 4-1 loss to the Union on August 29. United’s biggest change was the absence of Middletown, PA’s Ben Olsen, who resigned last week following United’s 4-1 loss to New York City FC. Olsen spent 11 years with the club as a player before taking over as coach in 2010. He was the second-longest tenured coach in MLS, a position now held by Jim Curtin. Longtime assistant Chad Ashton assumed the interim coaching duties and lost his debut against the Chicago Fire 2-1 on Sunday but had a more favorable result tonight against a top team. United started some familiar faces in keeper Chris Seitz, who played for Union in their inaugural season and Lancaster, PA’s Russel Canouse, who made his 11th start of the season for D.C. They also welcomed the return of Peruvian international Edison Flores, who missed the last six weeks due to a facial fracture and came on as a sub against Chicago.
The Union came out with an attacking lineup with captain Alejandro Bedoya dropping into the defensive midfielder role and Anthony Fontana playing in front of Brendan Aaronson and Jamiro Monteiro, who scored the opener in the 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact. Olivier Mbaizo remained in the right back position for Ray Gaddis, who’s still recovering from a hamstring injury and Kai Wagner appears fully fit now after his return from injury.
Another slow start from the Union led to several D.C. chances in the opening minutes, but Oniel Fisher’s shot went wide and Kevin Paredes’ shot was blocked by Jack Elliott. United nearly had the opener on a break following a Kai Wagner giveaway off a throw in but Elliott and Mbaizo both blocked shots to keep United out of goal. The Union had their first good chance in the 24th minute when Chris Seitz bobbled Monteiro’s left-footed shot and the ball bounced off Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos before being cleared away. The Union and D.C. traded chances minutes later with Przybylko’s strike from a Santos layoff hitting Seitz and Ola Kamara blasting Fisher’s cross high.
Andre Blake made a tremendous save to deny Canouse from close range four minutes from the break following a free kick that Fisher headed across the box. The ensuing play ended with Santos fouling Asad just outside the penalty area, and Flores’ curling free kick just missed a number of rushing United players and was juggled by Blake. But the teams went into halftime 0-0 with United holding a 7-3 advantage on shots and the Union maintaining more of the possession.
The Union started the second half asserting more of an attacking presence with a long-range header from Przybylko stopped by Seitz two minutes in. Anthony Fontana broke the game open with a goal shortly after to put the Union up 1-0. Przybylko picked off a poor clearance following a busted attack and went down in an attempt to draw a penalty. But Santos took control of the ball and crossed it in front of the goalmouth for Fontana, who slid across and nicked it in off the crossbar. Fontana, celebrating his 21st birthday, scored his fifth goal of the season.
Following the goal, the Union kept D.C. at a safe distance, but then the game flipped upside down when Pines headed home Asad’s corner to tie the game in the 71st minute. Pines beat Jack Elliott through traffic and outjumped Przybylko for his first career MLS goal. Then D.C. were awarded a penalty kick less than a minute later when Bedoya blocked a shot with his arm, though tucked to his side, and VAR ruled it a penalty. Asad scored from the spot, putting the hosts up 2-1. The yellow card also means Bedoya will miss the next game due to card accumulation.
“Unfortunately, in the game of soccer right now, and it’s not just MLS but all over the world, we don’t know what a handball is anymore,” Union coach Jim Curtin said after the game. “I’m not quite sure what Ale’s supposed to do. I know that by the letter of the law it does hit his arm, but it’s about as tight as possible. It’s a point blank shot, he can’t really move it, and then on top of it to give a yellow card that now suspends him for the next game is absolutely insane.”
The Union scrambled for a late equalizer but were outdone by United’s pressure at the other end, and for a while it appeared the single minute of doom would be the difference in the game. But Mark McKenzie tied the game in the 87th minute when his stunning long range strike deflected off a D.C. player and into the top corner. McKenzie’s goal was his first in his career.
The Union mounted several intense wave of attacks in the closing minutes. Przybylko nearly had the winner two minutes later but his shot off a throw in went wide, and Ilsinho had a shot stopped a minute later that Seitz pushed wide for a corner.
“There’s no easy games in this league,” Curtin said, “they made it difficult on us for sure, but at the same time we got our goal.” Curtin had high praise for Mark McKenzie’s performance but also spoke about his team’s inability to clear the ball on several corners leading up to the first goal as well as the penalty decision against them. “There’s going to be nights like this where this happens, but I am proud of the response. Yes, it feels like two points dropped but it is a big point.”
Despite the loss, the Union clinched a berth in the playoffs though their focus is still on a top seed. They will travel to Gillette Stadium for the second time this season to face the New England Revolution on Monday night.
PHL: Fontana 49’
D.C.: Pines 71’
D.C. Asad 75’
PHL: McKenzie 87’
PHL: Santos 42’
PHL: Fontana 53’
D.C.: Canouse 59’
PHL: Bedoya 74’
PHL: Mbaizo 81’
Philadelphia Union: Blake, Mbaizo, Elliott, McKenzie, Wagner, Bedoya, Monteiro, Aaronson, Fontana (Ilsinho 62’), Santos (Wooten 62’), Przybylko
Subs: Bendik, Collin, Real, Oravec, Turner, Ngalina, de Vries
D.C. United: Seitz, Fisher (Yow 90’ +1), Brillant, Pines, Mora, Paredes (Odoi-Atsem 83’), Canouse, Asad, Flores (Gressel 45’), Sorga, Kamara (Rivas 65’)
Subs: Edwards Jr., Sjöberg, Nyeman