Home loss con­tin­ues Union’s sad limp to­ward the play­offs

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

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.

AUSTIN HERTZOG — DIGITAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

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