Union Fall at Home for First Time in 2016
CHESTER, Pa. (973espn.com) – With C.J. Sapong still on the shelf with a nagging ankle injury, leading scorer Chris Pontius on the bench for the first time this season, and Vincent Nogueira gone for good, the shorthanded Philadelphia Union fell for the first time this season at Talen Energy Stadium, dropping a 3-2 decision to Vancouver.
Things started well for the Union (7-5-5, 26 points), who buzzed around the Whitecaps goal in the opening moments, culminating in a brilliant tic-tac-toe pass to the foot of rookie Fabian Herbers, who blasted the ball off the crossbar. Roland Alberg was there to clean up in the 14th minute for his fourth goal in two games as Philadelphia took the early 1-0 advantage.
The lead held up for only five minutes or so when former Union forward Andrew Jacobson made his return to Chester a good one by heading in a marker off a corner kick in the 19th minute. The ball squirted through the hands of Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake en route to Jacobson's head on the back side.
Vancouver (7-7-3, 24 points) kept the pressure on from there and nearly went in front in the 24th minute when Nicolas Mezquida's laser from outside the box was stopped by an outstretched Blake, who tipped it over the bar.
The Whitecaps finally went on top in the 42nd minute thanks to a great individual effort by Kekuta Manneh, who split two defenders and fired a shot that went off the left post and in for a 2-1 edge.
Pontius, who has five goals and four assists in 16 starts coming in, came on as the Union's first substitution in the 66th minute, spelling Ilsinho. The fresh legs nearly cashed in moments later as Herbers crossed the ball from the right in the 72th minute and Pontius blasted the volley just over the crossbar.
The near miss proved costly as the Whitecaps put things away in the 84th minute when Christian Bolanos found himself in space on the right side before he beat defender Keegan Rosenberry and deposited the ball inside the near post past Blake.
"There’s no way we are happy with giving up this many goals," Blake said. "I just think we are going through a phase. We just have to hang tight, stick together and ride out the slump."
The Union made it interesting at the end of stoppage time when Pontius put in his sixth goal of the season off a Sebastian Le Toux corner kick but the match was ended shortly thereafter.
"Chris is a starter first and foremost, he is a starter," Union coach Jim Curtin said when talking about his strategy for the night. "On this team he has started every game for us, it was just the situation on this week where he went a hard 90 (minutes) and he hadn’t gone 90 yet this year and he maybe wants to. He pushed hard in the Chicago game (a 4-3 win on Wednesday) in a game that to be honest should have been easier than it was, he had a lot of running and he took a big knock on his quad at the end of the game and it tightened up.
"Again, I held him and he jumps in the game and contributes right away so Chris is having a great season for us, he is a great pro, been a big impact to our team. Can’t say enough positives about him, a true professional, great in the locker room and a great addition to our team and again he is going to play a major role down the stretch here for us."
Philadelphia had been riding a 10-game unbeaten streak at home dating back to the last season, which tied the franchise record. The club was 8-0-2 in that stretch, out-scoring their opponents 21-9. Vancouver, meanwhile, won for the first time ever on the Delaware Riverfront after a loss and two draws in its three previous appearances.
The Union finished with 18 shots on the night, but only two of found the target, which both went in. Conversely the Whitecaps had 10 shots and six that made it all the way to Blake.
Philadelphia also held the advantage in duels won (53.5 percent to 46.5) and connected on a greater number of passes (85.2 percent to 80.5) on the night.
"So, not a feeling that the group is used to – or likes," Curtin explained. "First loss at home comes exactly at the midway point. Again, the guys are really disappointed, upset, frustrated because on the night I thought we played really good soccer. We had some of our best actions in terms of possessions, movements, the goal. Credit to Vancouver, they made some big blocks, the goalkeeper made a few saves, especially early. When we were buzzing a little bit in the first half."
-John McMullen covers the Philadelphia Union for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen.