The Philadelphia Union showcased a lot of new talent in their season opener against the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.
But an old problem reared its ugly head once again.
With the Union on the verge of earning one of their best road wins in franchise history, a defensive lapse in the final minute allowed Portland to find the last-gasp equalizer and walk away with a 1-1 draw.
“You can hear our locker room,” Union manager John Hackworth told reporters after the game. “We’re standing right outside of it. It feels more like a loss than it does a win. I guess that’s a good thing because the players know we gave away two points there. But we did enough to get three and we have to clean up some game management issues and learn how to close it out a little bit.”
Last season, the Union had similar stoppage-time issues, at one point surrendering two 97th-minute game-tying goals in the span of five days. And when the season ended, it was not hard for the players not to think about those results as they finished exactly four points shy of a playoff berth.
“We did a lot of that last year where we gave up late goals that cost us points,” Union striker Jack McInerney said. “It’s something that’s going to have to change if we want to make the playoffs.”
At the same time, McInerney noted that coming into the game, the Union would have happily left Providence Park with a point.
Even more encouraging was how the team looked for much of the contest.
New acquisitions Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu controlled the midfield, with the dynamic Maidana and Edu setting up the 64th-minute goal from McInerney that put Philly on the brink of victory. And another newcomer – Austin Berry – meshed well with fellow center back Amobi Okugo to help the defense keep Portland off the board until the 93rd minute, even with starting right back Sheanon Williams sidelined with a strained quad.
“I think the guys in this locker room know we’re that good,” goalkeeper Zac MacMath said. “And I think Portland was a little bit surprised about how well our team played tonight. I think it’s a good showing for our team and something we can look forward to going into next weekend.”
Even still, it might take some time for the sting of Saturday’s draw to go away.
“I thought our team played well enough to get three points on the night,” Hackworth said. “And we had it. So it’s disappointing that we let it slip out of our grasp.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.