CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union treated their home fans to an exciting, sustained offensive attack on Saturday, but all Real Salt Lake needed was one quick counter-attack to steal a result.
In front of a sold-out crowd of 18,728 at PPL Park, the upstart Union and a depleted Real Salt Lake squad played to a 1-1 tie, trading goals from Philly midfielder Keon Daniel and RSL striker Fabián Espíndola.
With the result, the Union (6-3-4) move into a tie with the New York Red Bulls atop the Eastern Conference table, while Real Salt Lake (6-3-3) are now tied with Seattle for third place in the Western Conference.
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The Union appeared to score the game’s first goal in the 22nd minute when Daniel ran onto a deep pass from defender Jordan Harvey at the end line and crossed it to a streaking Sébastien Le Toux, who banged it home. But the referee blew a late whistle to call Daniel offside on Harvey’s initial pass.
Just two minutes later, though, Daniel found redemption and his first MLS goal. On a similar play that led to the goal being called back, midfielder Michael Farfan chased down a pass from defender Sheanon Williams and chipped it to the center of the penalty area, where Daniel waited. Daniel’s header found the back of the net past RSL’s sprawling goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Within the next five minutes, the Union had three more legitimate scoring chances, but couldn’t build on their 1-0 lead as defender Carlos Valdés and Le Toux both hit shots off the post.
The failure to capitalize more off such a rare offensive barrage like that would come back to haunt the Union. After taking a tenuous 1-0 advantage into the locker room despite cracking five shots on net and earning four corner kicks in the first half, the Union watched their lead slip away early in the second half.
In the 53d minute, going against the run of play, Real Salt Lake forward Jean Alexandre won the ball from Farfan in the center of the pitch and fed the ball ahead to a streaking Espíndola, who cut the ball back on Valdés and fired a long, low shot past Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón.
It was the third goal of the season for Espíndola, who’s trying to help RSL make up for the absences of forwards Álvaro Saborío and Arturo Alvarez and midfielder Will Johnson, all of whom are away on Gold Cup duty.
The Union are also missing a key offensive player in Carlos Ruiz, who’s currently with Guatemala at the Gold Cup, but tried to make up for his absence by inserting three of their most explosive players – Justin Mapp, Roger Torres and Jack McInerney – as second-half substitutes.
McInerney nearly drew a penalty kick in the 79th minute when he was tripped up in the penalty area, and Mwanga put a header just over the net on a feed from Mapp. But for the most part, Philly could not recreate the same kind of scoring chances they had in the first half as RSL escaped Chester with the draw.
Real Salt Lake, winless in their last four road games, return home next Saturday to host D.C. United, while the Union make their longest trip of the season to face the Vancouver Whitecaps at Empire Field.
PHI -- Keon Daniel 1 (Michael Farfan 1, Sheanon Williams 1) 24
RSL -- Fabian Espindola 3 (Jean Alexandre 2) 53
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell (Tony Beltran 57), Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil (Collen Warner 83), Andy Williams, Fabian Espindola, Jean Alexandre (Artur Aghasyan 71).
Substitutes Not Used: Nelson Gonzalez, Rauwshan McKenzie, Chris Schuler, Kyle Reynish.
Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Jordan Harvey (Justin Mapp 57), Keon Daniel (Roger Torres 67), Brian Carroll, Kyle Nakazawa (Jack McInerney 73), Michael Farfan, Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga.
Substitutes Not Used: Juan Diego Gonzalez, Stefani Miglioranzi, Zach Pfeffer, Zac MacMath.
RSL -- Robbie Russell (caution; Reckless Tackle) 43
RSL -- Jean Alexandre (caution; Reckless Tackle) 54
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
Referee's Assistants: Paul Scott; James Conlee
4th Official: Jose Carlos Rivero
Time of Game: 1:51