CHESTER, Pa. – When the Philadelphia Union signed World Cup veteran Rais Mbolhi during the summer transfer window, they said that he had the ability to steal the team some wins to help them make the playoffs.
Instead, it was a massive blunder from the Algerian goalkeeper that may end up costing Philly a spot in the postseason.
In a do-or-die game for the Union on Thursday at PPL Park, Mbolhi shanked a clearance attempt directly to Robert Earnshaw, who punished the Union for their mistake with a game-tying goal in stoppage time that took two points away from Philly.
“It’s sickening,” Union interim manager Jim Curtin said following the 1-1 draw. “That’s the way I feel right now.”
Mbolhi, who was making just his fourth start in a Union kit, owned up to his mistake after the game – but not with a particularly remorseful tone.
“What can I say?” Mbohli told reporters in front of his locker. “It was a difficult match for me tonight. But mistakes happen. It was not the first one. It’s not the last one obviously. I know how to handle this kind of situation. It’s hard for me tonight but I’ll be fine.”
When asked about the play, Curtin admitted “it was a mistake” and that Mbolhi should have “put his foot through it and have it go out of bounds or at least regroup.” But the Union boss also pointed the finger at other players on the team for passing the ball back to the goalkeeper, which led to Mbolhi’s mishit.
“We played three passes backwards, and it goes from our free kick to now us picking it up out of our own goal,” Curtin said. “You’re taught at a very young age at the end of games where to play the ball. It should be played forward, and if it goes out of bounds 100 yards from your own goal, that’s fine. What happened was a series of mistakes by a lot of different guys.”
But, of course, almost all of the blame will fall on Mbolhi – a foreign import that wasn’t particularly loved by the fans anyway because of how he supplanted Zac MacMath, who had been evolving into a solid MLS goalkeeper.
Still, his teammates will try to pick up the Algerian up when he’s down.
“We always shake everyone’s hand when we get back in this locker room,” said Danny Cruz, who set up Amobi Okugo’s go-ahead goal in the 88th minute. “We’re a team. We win together. We lose together. If we score two goals, it wouldn’t have mattered, right?
“At the end of the day, we have to pick him up. And we have to help each other. We have to stick together. And we have a group of guys with a manager right now that I believe can do that.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.