The Philadelphia Union came into Columbus this past weekend hoping to regain their footing atop the Eastern Conference table. Instead, they stumbled back to Philly in fourth place in the conference, gasping for their playoff life.
And after Saturday’s disheartening 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew, Union manager Peter Nowak lamented the questionable referee decisions that doomed them to zero points in what was perhaps their biggest game of the season.
“It’s a pity why we can’t have a normal game — a normal game where a foul is a foul, a yellow is a yellow and a penalty is a penalty,” Nowak said. “And then we walk off this field, off to the locker room, off to this press conference with the feeling, 'OK, we did what we did and the better team won.' I don’t have this feeling and I think my guys in the locker room don’t have this feeling as well.”
Saturday’s game wasn’t decided by one play alone but certainly no play was more important to the outcome than the handball called on Union defender Sheanon Williams in the penalty box in the 51st minute. The resulting whistle led to the go-ahead penalty kick goal by the Crew’s Andrés Mendoza, which turned out to be the game-winner.
“It was physically impossible to see, from the angle the referee was running and how far away he was,” said Nowak, who has griped about officiating throughout the season. “It is physically impossible, is what I can say. For Columbus, getting a goal like that in the 50th minute was a nice Christmas present.”
The Union were also hurt by defender Carlos Valdés’ questionable yellow card in the final minutes. The center back will have to miss the team’s next game — a home contest against the New England Revolution on Sunday — because of yellow-card accumulation.
Holder is back
When the Union got rid of third-string goalkeeper Thorne Holder in late July, Nowak said it was done more to precipitate other moves than because of Holder’s performance or potential.
Now that the international transfer window has closed without too much movement in Philadelphia, the Union decided to bring back Holder, announcing the reacquisition on Monday.
Holder, a Trinidad and Tobago international, had played five games with USL Pro side FC New York since he was released by Philadelphia, recording a 2-2-1 record with a pair of shutouts for the third-division team.
He didn’t make his official MLS debut during his first stint with the Union, but he did play in four Reserve League games, as well as a half in Philly’s 1-0 exhibition win over Everton FC on July 23.
While Holder was gone, the Union were 0-2-3.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.