For the most part, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth has been pleased with the transformation of his team from last season to this one.
But there are still two glaring defensive problems that have carried over: defending restarts and allowing stoppage-time goals.
And both doomed the Union in Saturday’s 2-1 setback to Columbus at Crew Stadium – their first loss of the season.
“I’m really not happy we’ve given up two restart goals,” Hackworth said. “And two of those restarts were just missed clearances. We have to solve that. And we’ve given up two goals in the extra time of a half – one in Portland at the end of the game and one here at the end of the first half. We have to solve that because we were actually pretty strong until then.”
While the Union were able to escape Portland with a draw in their season opener despite allowing a 93rd-minute goal off a corner kick, they weren’t as fortunate Saturday.
Columbus struck first in the 24th minute after Bernardo Añor snuck away from his mark, Sébastien Le Toux, on a corner kick and headed one just inside the back post, where Cristian Maidana whiffed on a clearance attempt.
“They came out and definitely committed numbers in the first half,” Hackworth said. “That gave us some trouble. But I thought we were handling it well until we gave up a restart. We lost our man, we should have had an easy clearance on the goal and somehow one of those happened.”
Maidana – who’s been a dynamic presence for the Union offensively to start the season – had another miscue when his midfield giveaway led to a long-range goal from Anor, who completed his brace just before the halftime whistle.
“It was an unnecessary turnover,” Hackworth said, “and we got punished for it.”
Despite falling behind by two goals by halftime, the Union made a serious push in the second half. Led by second half sub Leo Fernandes, who scored the first goal of his MLS career, the Union closed within one and had opportunities to score the equalizer.
But, in the end, it was too little, too late.
“I thought we battled our way back from a difficult situation,” Hackworth said. “We created plenty of chances. We had counter after counter. And we just couldn’t pull a play off. We couldn’t execute. That’s our fault.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.