The Philadelphia Union were 45 minutes away from securing their biggest win of the season and jumping, at least temporarily, from sixth place to third place in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, they struggled to deal with the hard-charging Montreal Impact in the second half, giving up two goals in a brutal 2-1 loss at State Saputo that could doom their flickering postseason hopes.
“This was a playoff game before the playoffs,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “Both of us had to win tonight. Our expectation was we were going to come in and get the victory. We did a good job in the first half. We didn’t finish it off in the end.”
While the Union certainly played well in the first half, taking a 1-0 lead after Kleberson set up fellow Brazilian Fabinho for his first MLS goal, the wheels began to fall off after the break.
As Montreal threw numbers forward in a desperate attempt to snap a six-game winless streak, Philly gave up multiple scoring chances as their own offensive opportunities dried up. And both of Montreal’s goals – a 64th-minute strike from Marco Di Vaio and an 84th-minute header from Karl Ouimette – came from the Union not closing down space or missing defensive assignments.
“They came out with a lot of energy in the second half and really pushed the game,” Hackworth said. “Honestly, they were pretty good in the second half and got the equalizer and kept pushing after that. We did not do a good job dealing with it.”
What specifically should the Union have done better to protect their one-goal lead and return to the United States with what would have been a crucial result?
“Just try to control the ball a little bit, try to grab some control of the game and slow it down,” said goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who didn’t have much of a chance on either of Montreal’s goals. “[We had to] dictate it ourselves instead of letting them dictate it for the whole 45 minutes.”
Because of the loss, the Union can no longer catch Montreal, meaning they’re battling Houston, Chicago and New England for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots.
And if Houston and Chicago both win this weekend, they could be eliminated before they even take the field for their regular-season finale against Sporting Kansas City next week.
“If we are still mathematically alive next weekend, we will put everything we have into it,” Hackworth said. “We will put everything we have into it, no matter what. But tonight, especially in the second half, was our opportunity. And we let ourselves down.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.