CHESTER, Pa. – It was bad enough for the Philadelphia Union that they allowed two goals in the final 11 minutes to let a near-certain win turn into a 3-3 draw against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
But then things got even worse when captain Amobi Okugo was shown a red card by referee Sorin Stoica while walking off the field – the final straw for Philly in a game in which they felt robbed by the officiating.
“There was no explanation,” a heated Okugo said afterwards. “He gave me a card when my back was turned – kind of cowardly but whatever.”
Okugo’s card came after his partner in the central midfield, Michael Lahoud, was also shown straight red in the 76th minute for kicking Jared Watts in the face on a clearance attempt in the Union box. While it could be argued that it may have been harsh, it wouldn’t have mattered if the card was yellow since Lahoud had already been booked earlier in the game.
Still, giving up a penalty kick – which Dillon Powers converted – and going down a man following Lahoud’s ejection doomed the Union in what turned into their seventh straight winless league game at home.
“Any time you’re up 3-1 at home, you have to close out a game,” interim manager Jim Curtin said. “We can talk about the ref and all the calls all we want, but at the end of the day we should still close that game out on our own terms. It felt comfortable at 3-1. Maybe it’s a silly challenge by Mike, but it’s unacceptable to give up three goals at home.”
Curtin also admitted that Okugo saying anything to the ref to make him pull out a card after the game was “probably a waste of breath” and “not smart on his part at all.”
Other players agreed with their coach, with Sheanon Williams saying that “we just have to do a better job controlling our emotions and getting to the locker room.”
O’Neill was shown a yellow for the 12th-minute tackle, but Cruz said after the game that “it was the definition of a red card.”
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“The main thing I said to the ref is, ‘This is my career,’” said Cruz, who looked to be in serious pain but managed to stay in the game. “It was a nasty tackle. It was late. He knew he wasn’t getting there first. He knew what he was doing. And it’s very frustrating to not have the man in the middle support you.
“It’s tackles like that that get people injured. It’s tackles like that that get people out for a year. I want to feel protected. And from that minute on, I didn’t feel protected.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.