On Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Union (7-13-4) played in front of a home crowd of 16K strong fighting to stay in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. This was a do-or-die match for the Union, where a win would not only mean 3 points but a 6-point swing in relation to the Columbus Crew, their opponent and leader in the standings. This seemed to be a strong possibility in the 68th minute when Josh Williams—who’d scored the only Columbus goal of the game—was given a red card, shrinking their team to just 10 men. But a 95thminute break-away goal countered the Union’s pressure and gave Columbus 3 points in hard-fought 2-1 defeat.
Just the day before the game, Union coach John Hackworth told the media: “We still believe we can pull off something pretty special here. Tomorrow night is a really good home game for us (and) we believe it’s a six-pointer. If we can get on a little bit of a roll here, things could change quickly. We’re not ready to change our philosophy from the way it’s been the last few months.”
However his words were countered after the game when Hackworth spoke candidly about the team’s playoff hopes: “You know, I’m the eternal optimist, but I would say that I’m not stupid either. Unless we go on some amazing run—tonight was a game where we had to get three points and have a six-point swing. I don’t think (the playoffs are) a possibility anymore. I think we should stop talking about it, personally.”
The starting 11 for the Union consisted of what coach Hackworth thought of as the best current team he could possibly field. This included Sheanon Williams back in the lineup along with the exclusion of Freddy Adu and Raymon Gaddis. Philadelphia started off the game exactly how they wanted. The offense was fast-paced, creating opportunities while the defense took care of any ball that entered the final third. Danny Cruz and Gabriel Gomez looked to test young Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who was forced to make 5 saves over the course of the contest.
The Union kept the pressure on the Columbus back line and were finally rewarded late in the first half. In the final 10 minutes, Michael Farfan was taken down just outside the box which allowed captain Carlos Valdes to line up and take the free kick. It deflected off of two Crew players and into the corner of the goal. Philadelphia 1, Columbus nil.
Just before halftime, however, Columbus was set up with a similar free kick. Instead of a shot, forward Federico Higuain crossed a ball in that Josh Williams finished with a header into the net. 1-1 was the halftime score.
The storyline continued with Williams in the second half. In the 68thminute an off-ball incident with Antoine Hoppenot warranted first a yellow card, and then a controversial red card. This looked like the perfect opportunity for Philadelphia to achieve that six-point swing they so desperately coveted. This led to substitutions for both teams. The Union brought in Freddy Adu to try and get the team a goal, while the Crew substituted a forward for a defenseman. It seemed obvious that they would be happy to leave with 1 point, let alone 3.
In these final 20 minutes there was an onslaught of offense for the Union. Columbus seemed to not be able to get the ball out of their box, while Philadelphia continued to bombard the new crew goalkeeper. But Lampson held up strong, making the majority of his saves in these key moments. There were an incredible amount of opportunities for the Union, including a practical open-goal for Sheanon Williams and others with shots just wide or over the goal.
But in the 5th minute of extra time, the Union were stunned by their conference rivals. All the home fans—still anxiously awaiting a goal—watched Lampson create a fast break which led the Crew sped into Union territory with more men. The thought had not even crossed many peoples mind. Not only would the Union would not score, but that they could possibly lose this game. The break ended with Eddie Gaven slotting the ball just past goalie Zac MacMath. The game promptly ended with celebrating Columbus players and heartbroken, no longer playoff-hopeful, Union fan base.
The Union next play at the New England Revolution on September 1st, the team just behind them in the conference standings.