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Eastern Conference Championship

Resilient Union show their guile in draw in Colorado

A season ago, the Philadelphia Union were doomed by untimely mistakes and bad luck, two big reasons why they finished with a woeful 2-12-1 road record.

Saturday’s game in Colorado showed those same problems are still unavoidable at times. The only difference this year is that the Union know how to overcome them.

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Playing on the road against the defending champs, the Union fell behind 1-0 when defender Danny Califf was whistled for a second-half takedown of the Rapids’ Pablo Mastroeni and Conor Casey scored on the ensuing penalty kick.

It was a play eerily reminiscent of last year when the Union conceded five penalty kicks, but the club’s response was not. Staring defeat in the eyes, Philly got a huge goal from Danny Mwanga in the 66th minute to escape Colorado with a hard-fought 1-1 draw.

“The PK call was kind of questionable,” said Mwanga, who came on a second-half substitute, “but we knew we just had to keep our head up and keep fighting until the end of the game.”

Mwanga was not alone in his assessment that it was a harsh whistle on Califf, with team manager Peter Nowak calling it “bogus.”

But everyone on the Union was also in agreement that they couldn’t just sit around and mope. So just three minutes after Casey’s PK goal, Mwanga breathed new life into the team, his strike from distance giving the Union their second-straight road result.

“I’m not sure if that’s a PK but the ref called it,” said Union defender Jordan Harvey, who played in Colorado from 2006-09. “We showed resilience and Danny Mwanga had a great goal.”

The Union, who now boast a respectable 2-3-1 record away from PPL Park, remain in first place in the Eastern Conference, one point clear of the New York Red Bulls, who also played to a tie Saturday.

Perhaps it’s a testament to how far the Union have come in one year that, while happy with the way they responded after falling behind, the Philly players and coaches were not overly enthused at the final result.

After the game ended, Nowak pointed to a couple of missed opportunities, specifically midfielder Keon Daniel’s high shot on a brilliant through ball from Gabriel Farfan in the 53rd minute.

“We were a little disappointed not to get three points,” Nowak said. “But you cannot be too greedy coming here.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.