Home loss continues Union’s sad limp toward the playoffs
CHESTER >> For five weeks since the Philadelphia Union’s last appearance in Chester, fans of the club have waited in suspended animation.
Through international breaks and ill-fated road trips, the club sustained itself with a mantra: Wait for those last two games here. Just you wait, coach Jim Curtin repeated, as his team slid from first in the summer to third in August to sixth place. Just you wait.
Those fans are still waiting for a reasonable facsimile of the playoff-worthy Union of the spring to show up after an absentee debacle of Sunday’s 2-0 loss to eliminated Orlando City, a team with little more than pride to play for.
That commodity was in too short of supply for the team that could’ve clinched its first playoff berth in five years with a win — or, as results broke their way elsewhere in simultaneous kickoffs — merely a draw. But even as New England bent over backward, with a red card and two goals allowed at bottom-dwelling Chicago in a loss, the Union couldn’t oblige and officially book a playoff berth.
Instead, they flailed in vain at goal, allowed a counter-attack goal by Carlos Rivas after a farcical error by Fabinho and a late tally by Julio Batpista on a breakaway that Andre Blake couldn’t stop.
In the process, they were shut out at home for the first time this season, extended their winless streak to six games (0-4-2) and guaranteed a fifth sub-.500 season in the club’s seven undistinguished campaigns.
Still, the Union (1113-9, 42 points) actually improved their playoff chances, more an indictment of the overabundance of playoff spots available. By grabbing the same result as the Revolution (10-14-9, 39 points), the Union remain in control of their playoff destiny. They can lose to the East-leading Red Bulls next week and the Revs can win in Montreal, but as long as the Union’s margin of defeat and the Revs margin of victory adds to less than 12, the Union will get the final playoff spot on goal differential (Revs are minus-13, the Union a robust minus-1).
The Union can back into the playoffs like a stricken container ship into port, even though Saturday’s humbling ended all chance of hosting a playoff game.
“Feels funny,” Curtin said. “Don’t know how to feel because we don’t feel good about it because we know we can do better on the field.”
The consensus on how to feel about the disastrous 90 minutes that had just played out is considerably easier. The Union failed to put together much in the way of attacking momentum. They held an edge in possession but were outshot, 12-10. They came up empty on nine corner kicks, one of which turned into Rivas’ goal, originally credited as a Keegan Rosenberry own goal in the 59th.
And with the chance at victory gone deep in stoppage time, the defense collectively shut off, allowing the Brazilian Baptista in alone to beat Blake, who had temporarily saved the Union’s bacon with a world-class denial of a Matias Perez Garcia curler.
“We worked hard and tried to come back with a good performance tonight,” Tranquillo Barnetta said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t. Especially in the second half, we talked about pushing the game. Even our first half wasn’t perfect. We believed in ourselves and tried to get this goal. Unfortunately, we had a mistake and we had to run from behind again.”
The best chance of the first half for either team came off the boot of Ken Tribbett … at his own net. Luckily, the ball skidded off the post and into the secure hands of Blake to end the threat in the 43rd minute.
The Union’s response to Rivas’s goal was delayed and muted. It took Curtin eight minutes to introduce Ilsinho as a sub, and only because Chris Pontius limped off after his header of a Rosenberry cross was saved by goalie Joe Bendik.
Roland Alberg and, belatedly, Charlie Davies were introduced, but chances didn’t follow. Barnetta headed an Alejandro Bedoya cross wide in stoppage time from an open look, but not much else happened.
Orlando City players celebrate after Julio Baptista, third from right, scored the team’s second goal as Union forward CJ Sapong, foreground, crouches down during the second half Sunday in Chester.