Sebastien Le Toux trotted to the corner, drew a heart in the sky with his hands, and then pointed to the crowd at PPL Park in Chester.
His goal celebration was the moment the Union imagined when they reacquired the team's all-time leading scorer to ignite their stagnant offense. They just didn't count on Le Toux's being their only offense on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas City spoiled Le Toux's return, scoring three unanswered goals to rally past the Union, 3-1, before a crowd of 18,160 in the Major League Soccer season opener.
"I can't think of any way to feel good about anything that's just happened," Union manager John Hackworth said. "I'm glad [Le Toux] is here. I'm glad he scored a goal in his first game back. But the fact is, this is a team sport, and from our perspective it's unacceptable to play at PPL Park and lose the way we did."
Le Toux's 17th-minute goal, off a beauty of an over-the-top chip from Keon Daniel, was the storybook fresh start. The lack of finish the rest of the way looked more like last season, when the Union scored 34 goals in 37 games.
The Union dominated the first half, outshooting Sporting, 11-4. Le Toux just missed converting a one-on-one chance, pushing the ball wide left after beating the goalkeeper.
But instead of a two-goal lead, the Union went into the half tied at 1 after Graham Zusi pounded a rebound past goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
"I should have scored," Le Toux said. "It's a big difference to be 2-0, and I think it would have been a different game. So I'm pretty mad at myself for that."
As much as the Union controlled the first half, the second belonged to Sporting, the two-time defending regular season champions of the Eastern Conference.
In the 66th minute, Zusi curled a free kick into the box, where an unmarked Oriol Rosell headed it past McMath for the go-ahead goal.
"We had them on the ropes, and you can't let a team like that off," Hackworth said. "Something as simple as losing a man. That can't be the difference."
Claudio Bieler made it 3-1 in the 83d minute.
Former Penn Charter star Bobby Convey started at forward for Sporting and received a yellow card in the 56th minute after taking down Daniel from behind. Convey was subbed out in the 63d minute.