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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Union's season in five forgettable moments

Any conversation about the demise of the Philadelphia Union’s season seems to inevitably arrive at the same impasse, as far as John Hackworth is concerned. Yes, the Union won some games they probably shouldn’t, the coach will relent, but there were certain calls that went against the Union that hampered their chase of a playoff spot.

At the risk of the going down that same road – and trust me, that drum has been thoroughly beaten at PPL Park in recent weeks – the Union’s season does boil down to a few key moments. The team’s fate was ultimately sealed but its alarming propensity to turn wins into draws (or worse). (As a quick editorial note: I think it was a fair fate; teams that have to scuffle for draws against Toronto and D.C. United a total of three times this season don’t deserve postseason soccer. There are certainly an equal number of breaks that shouldn't have gone the Union's way that did. )

Below are five moments, a cumulative matter of inches, that stood between the Philadelphia Union and the playoffs … perhaps, the Supporters’ Shield.

A big (Le) miss

It was a long, long time ago, however similar the weather Saturday may have been to opening day March 2. The opener for the Union against Sporting Kansas City goes down as a 3-1 loss, but what is missed in that score line is the fact that the Union not only scored first, but had a chance to score several more times. The most clear-cut opportunity was this miss by Sebastien Le Toux, 1-v-1 against Jimmy Nielsen, one of several times this season the Frenchman’s finishing has been less than spot-on (plus more later). I won’t pretend that this miss would’ve somehow turned the Union into world-beaters. But up 2-0 inside of a half hour against the eventual runner-up in the East would’ve certainly made a strong case for three points in the opener, and then who knows…

The hand of Gonzalez(es)

Yeah, there’s no way we get out of this without validating at least some of the woe-is-me rhetoric circulating PPL Park. Let’s set aside for a moment that the Union squandered a second-half lead in this one, or that they allowed a significantly weakened Seattle side to squeak away with a point at PPL Park, or the fact that the two Danny Cruz goals scored in as many minutes accounted for 67 percent of his offensive production and a staggering quarter of the goals from midfield all season. Had any of those issues been rectified, that May 4 afternoon or as the season wore on, this analysis might be academic. As it is though, the Union were wrongly denied a penalty in this case, the ball clearly striking the outstretched arm of Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez off a Conor Casey shot. Referee Jorge Gonzalez didn't see it that way, though. Little did they know it would be the start of the fifth penalty-free season in the last 14 MLS seasons.

The non-punch

It seems the Union had their struggles getting calls in either box. With the final act against Dallas June 29, it appeared that London Woodberry impeded Zac MacMath from getting to the ball on a free-kick delivery by Michel late on (so late as to be in the seventh of a minimum of five minutes of added time, as Hackworth pointed out a few times). The result is a goal by Blas Perez, as the Union failed to hold a second-half lead, at home, against a team with 10 men. The goal represented a bit of justice, as Perez had appeared to score earlier, and replay showed the ball very close to over the line before Sheanon Williams hastily cleared it (sixth video down). Let’s also not forget that the free kick should’ve never happened if not for a terrible, bookable foul by Chris Albright, his most significant contribution in his 15th and final MLS season. MacMath learned his lessons from this experience and played better in the aftermath, as did the team…

A Real late loss

Oh wait, never mind. We’ve surmised that the Union became the first team in the history of competitive soccer to surrender one-goal leads while up a man in the seventh minute of stoppage time or later twice inside of four days on July 3. That’s what happened with this Ray Gaddis handball, a clear call that no one can dispute, deep into stoppage time at Rio Tinto Stadium July 3. The result was a Javi Morales conversion from the spot, and instead of heading to smothering Houston sans a slew of regulars with three points in the bag, they ended one of the biggest road trips of the year with a solitary point. And it all could’ve been prevented with a lash of Le Toux’s foot (about the 6:30 mark here).

Houston, we have a problem

I’m not going to give any more attention to the game at Foxborough where Casey’s goal was called off; rightly or wrongly, there was little stopping the rampant attack by New England that day. It could’ve changed the game, certainly, but the response to that nugget of adversity was so poor as to cast doubt on the difference Casey's marker could’ve made. Instead, let’s look at the Houston game Sept. 14, one that could’ve hastened a Dynamo tailspin that looked imminent and put the Union in the playoffs driver’s seat. Keon Daniel’s free kick that found the back of the net – rare occasion that that is – should’ve counted past a flailing and ultimately bailed-out Tally Hall, if not for a seldom-used ref calling interference or offsides or something on Amobi Okugo. (Side note: I interviewed Mark Kadlecik after the gamer per the league’s policies on referee questioning. I still have no idea why it was called that way.) With Houston, mired in some of the worst throes of its summer offensive ailments, playing for a 1-0 win, this necessarily would’ve changed the equation for the Union.

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