UNION BURNED BY FIRE
THE CHANTS OF "Come on, you boys in blue" from the River End appeared to have fallen on deaf ears Sunday night. The Union allowed Eastern Conference foe Chicago enter PPL Park and score three unanswered goals, as Philadelphia took a 3-1 loss, which snapped a four-game home win streak. Chicago's Chris Rolfe scored two goals, including the game winner as the Fire won its second straight. Additionally, the win was the first for Chicago against the Union at PPL Park, improving to 3-2-1 all time.
THE CHANTS OF "Come on, you boys in blue" from the River End appeared to have fallen on deaf ears Sunday night.
The Union allowed Eastern Conference foe Chicago to enter PPL Park and score three unanswered goals, as Philadelphia took a 3-1 loss, which snapped a four-game home win streak. Chicago's Chris Rolfe scored two goals, including the game winner as the Fire won its second straight. Additionally, the win was the first for Chicago against the Union at PPL Park, improving to 3-2-1 all time.
The Union (7-12-2, 23 points) made the scoreboard first courtesy of an own goal in the 34th minute. Freddy Adu floated a ball in the box intended for rookie forward Chandler Hoffman, but was redirected into the net by Chicago defender Jalil Anibaba. Though you wouldn't have known given Hoffman's celebration.
"It definitely touched my head," joked Hoffman. "So I celebrated it like it was mine."
Just before halftime, Rolfe got his first after Fire forward Sherjill MacDonald took Union defender Bakary Soumare to the endline and slotted a perfect ball in to an onrushing Rolfe in the 43rd minute. Two minutes later, Chicago (11-7-5, 38 points) defender Arne Friedrich buried a header past goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Even with the addition if the 6-4 Soumare along the back line, it's evident that the Union continues to have trouble defending set piece plays.
"That's our biggest problem right now is that we can't afford these kinds of results, we just can't," said Union interim manager John Hackworth. "We have a lot to play for and we can't lose any confidence right now … First of all, we should've taken shots from distance, some low-lying drives that would've taken some heads off, [taking those kinds of shots] pulls the defense up … I always preach that the runs initiate the pass, and there just wasn't enough of those tonight."
In the 56th, Rolfe put the game away with a 20-yard rip that MacMath got fingers on, but no avail.
The Union, yet again chasing the match, put high pressure on Chicago's defense, and to its credit, the Fire responded with solid transitional defense of its own specifically in the second half. The inclusion of forwards Lionard Pajoy, Josue Martinez and Antoine Hoppenot provided chances, but failing to capitalize has been the story of this 2012 MLS campaign. The closest the Union came in the second half was a shot from midfielder Michael Farfan in the 62nd that caromed off the left post of Fire keeper Sean Johnson.
"Ever since we got [our goal], I felt like [Chicago] had the better of the game," Union midfielder Brian Carroll said. "We kept pushing and pushing, but that left us venerable in the back. We needed to find a way to win this game tonight and we didn't. Part of that is us and part of that was them playing a good overall game."
Except for his mistimed step toward MacDonald, Soumare was solid in his debut at central defense, playing a deep sweeper role for much of the contest. He paired well with fellow center back Amobi Okugo as the Union missed All-Star center back Carlos Valdes, called up for international duty with Colombia.
"It was good being out there playing 90 minutes. I'm a little rusty obviously, but I felt good, my knee felt good, no pain and fitness-wise I was OK," Soumare said. "Obviously it takes a little bit of time to get used to the way the team is playing, but overall I think it was OK."
Also out was defensive midfielder Gabriel Gomez, summoned for national team duty with Panama. Keon Daniel, who leaves this week to compete for his native Trinidad and Tobago, played a full 90 minutes at wing midfielder and looked good. Trinidad and Tobago plays Canada in Lauderhill, Fla., on Wednesday, the last FIFA international match date of the summer.
With 13 matches remaining, 12 against Eastern Conference clubs, the Union is 15 points out of the final playoff spot. The plus is that the Union has six games remaining at home where they've had the most success this season. In addition, the Union has at least two games in hand over all the clubs above it in the Eastern Conference. Next up, is a Sunday match at RFK Stadium against rivals D.C. United (5 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
"I'm not ready to toss in the towel," said Hackworth on his team's playoff chances. "We've been a really good team these last 2 months. I am going to back to work and try to sort out our problems and get ready for next week."