Midway through the second half of Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth was feeling confident.
The halftime substitution of Antoine Hoppenot had brought new life to the Union, and for much of the second half, they seemed to have the hosts back on their heels, threatening to spoil their Eastern Conference championship party.
“At 65-70 minutes,” Hackworth admitted, “I did not think there was a chance we were going to lose this game.”
And then, just like that, the Union misfired on a couple of good chances to take the lead and couldn’t prevent a late go-ahead goal from C.J. Sapong that gave SKC a hard-fought 2-1 victory – and the top seed in the East.
For Hackworth, the whole scene felt all too familiar.
“It’s kind of been our story all year,” the Union manager said. “We perform at this level but give away one or two opportunities that we just can’t give away.”
For Hackworth, the game wasn’t entirely rosy. He admitted the Union – who were playing without injured starting fullbacks Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan – weren’t at their best in the first half, as they allowed SKC to go into the break with a 1-0 lead on a goal from Jacob Peterson.
But bringing Hoppenot in at halftime for Gabriel Gomez paid immediate dividends when the rookie striker pounced on the rebound of a missed penalty kick from Michael Farfan and tied the game at 1-1 in the 53rd minute. Hoppenot also nearly drew a penalty kick later in the game.
“To his credit, Gomez played well in the first half but we felt like Kansas City was playing a high line and we thought we could go behind them with Antoine,” Hackworth explained. “We pushed Jack [McInerney] up along next to him. It was a little bit of a gamble but when you’re down 1-0, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Minutes after Hoppenot tied it up, McInerney very nearly extended his streak to five consecutive games with a goal but a long header skimmed off the post. Keon Daniel also had a good look on net during that stretch, before the hosts regained control of the game and sent the eighth-place Union to their 17th loss of the season.
The Union close their mostly frustrating 2012 season with a home game against the rival Red Bulls on Saturday.
“I’m proud of my team because I thought we stood with them a lot of the time and had numerous opportunities,” Hackworth said. “It’s disappointing but at the same time I thought we played well – well enough to get a result there.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.