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Union squanders important two points

The Union, fighting to make the playoffs, allows a goal in stoppage time and has to settle for a tie with Chicago.

Maurice Edu (21) tries with Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa (24) for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Chester, Pa., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Maurice Edu (21) tries with Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa (24) for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Chester, Pa., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more(Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

FOR WHATEVER reason, the Chicago Fire has found itself in a lot of close games this season. The club arrived in Philadelphia this week with 29 games under its belt, a whopping 16 of them finishing in draws.

A draw was exactly a result the Union couldn't afford last night. Its playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Jim Curtin's squad needed to come away with three points to keep pace in the Eastern Conference standings.

And after an 88th-minute goal from Amobi Okugo, it appeared the Union would leave Chester's PPL Park with a win. But in stoppage time, Chicago's Robert Earnshaw chipped a goal over Rais MBolhi to seal a heartbreaking, 1-1 draw that put a large dent in the Union's postseason aspirations.

"Should be able to close out a game when you're up 1-0 in the 89th at home," said Curtin, the interim team manager. "Unacceptable."

Now with a mere three regular-season games remaining, the Union (9-10-12) has 39 points, one back of sixth-place Toronto FC and two back of the fifth-place New York Red Bulls. The Philly club has a game in hand on New York, two on Toronto. Five teams from each conference qualify for the postseason.

Last night's game lacked excitement - until the waning minutes, that is. The final goal came in the second minute of stoppage time, when the Union played the ball backward and MBolhi, the club's marquee summer acquisition, fired a clearance to the middle of the field that Earnshaw intercepted. A chip shot over MBolhi served as the dagger.

"What can I say?" MBolhi said. "It was a difficult match for me tonight."

For fleeting moments, before Chicago (5-8-17) secured its MLS record-setting 17th draw, it seemed like the Union would escape an uninspiring showing with three points. In the 88th minute, Danny Cruz crossed to the box, where the ball deflected off the legs of Brian Brown and in front of Okugo, who fired it home.

But the good vibes lasted only a minute or two.

"We played three passes backward, so it goes from our free kick to now us picking it up out of our own goal," Curtin said of the sequence that led to Earnshaw's goal. "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. It's sickening. That's kind of the way I feel right now."

In what amounted to a must-win game, Philadelphia was forced to play without its two best goal scorers. Sebastien Le Toux missed his second consecutive game with a right ankle sprain and Conor Casey sat with knee tendinitis.

The two veterans weren't the only starters sidelined, either. Center back Ethan White, who missed Saturday's loss at D.C. United with a left hamstring injury, was available off the Union's bench but did not play, and right back Sheanon Williams did not play because of a quad injury.

A dull first half ended scoreless, the teams combining for one shot on goal on the stat sheet. It was so uneventful that midway through, ESPN's Alexi Lalas, who was calling the game, tweeted, "Somebody do something. Anything."

The opening half signified the Union's sixth consecutive scoreless stanza dating to the Sept. 16 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship match loss to Seattle. Okugo's second goal of the season snapped the streak, but it was not enough for the three points the Union needed.

Philadelphia doesn't play again until a week from tomorrow, when it hosts Columbus, which is currently in fourth place. It closes out its slate with an Oct. 18 contest against Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park and a road game at Columbus on Oct. 26.

"All the guys in the locker room are disappointed that we didn't get a win," Curtin said. "Now we're in a hole."