CHESTER, Pa. – As if the Philadelphia Union didn’t have enough to be upset about following a 1-0 home loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday, midfielder Cristian Maidana provided the cherry on top of a brutal night.
Moments before the final whistle of a game that may have doomed Philly’s flickering playoff hopes, Maidana was issued a straight red card for a confrontation with New England’s Lee Nguyen.
And the league’s assist leader may be subject to a further suspension after referee Chris Penso confirmed through a pool reporter that Maidana was sent off “after deliberately spitting at an opponent on the ground.”
Afterwards, the dejected Argentine playmaker pleaded his case.
“I’m always chewing gum when I play,” Maidana told reporters through a translator. “I didn’t have any intention of spitting on a player. That wasn’t what I was trying to do. It could have happened that my gum fell out of my mouth at that moment, but it wasn’t an intentional thing.”
Replays clearly show what looks to be gum coming out of Maidana’s mouth in the direction of Nguyen after the Union midfielder pushed the Revolution standout from behind in the dying moments of the game.
But in the postgame press conference, Union head coach Jim Curtin hadn’t seen enough to discuss the card – though he wasn’t thrilled with his star playmaker’s performance in general.
“Any time you get sent off, it’s not good,” Curtin said. “It doesn’t help your team. I think it wasn’t a particularly good game for Chaco. They did a good job limiting his touches and were hard on him. He didn’t have an easy night and kind of compounded it by the red card at the end.”
Maidana wasn’t the only Philly player to struggle as the Union failed to generate any shots on target after falling behind by a goal early in the second half.
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And things won’t get any easier offensively without Maidana, who leads the league with a club-record 14 assists, including three in two separate games since the start of July.
Transfer-window signing Tranquillo Barnetta, who enjoyed his best game in a Union uniform Saturday, will likely take his place in the central attacking midfield for next Saturday’s game in San Jose – the first of several straight must-wins for a team with the league’s worst points-per-game record.
“That’s something that could be happening naturally now with Chaco [Maidana] out,” Curtin said. “That sounds like a possibility. We’re going to still obviously push to get results and wins. Obviously that is the name of the game in pro sports. We’re still not eliminated yet. So we’ll play the final seven games as best we can to try to get as many points as we can.
“Strange things have happened. We understand the situation though – it’s fading.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.