The Union proved yet again that they’re one of the best teams in Major League Soccer this year, battling runaway league leader Los Angeles FC to a 1-1 tie Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
Kacper Przybylko electrified the sellout crowd of 19,145 by opening the scoring for the Union (15-8-7, 52 points) in just the third minute. Alejandro Bedoya started the sequence by darting up the right wing and feeding Fafa Picault, whose cross was met by Przybylko with a header that looped high over Tyler Miller and down just under the crossbar.
Los Angeles (19-4-7, 64 points) had plenty of forays forward, but the Union’s defense was resolute. It took until the 43rd minute for the visitors to finally score, as Carlos Vela jammed in a rebound of a Mark-Anthony Kaye shot off the crossbar. It was Vela’s MLS-leading 28th goal of the season.
At halftime, the Union had been outshot, 8-2; had been outpassed, 235-166; and had conceded 55 percent of the possession. Yet the score felt fair, because the Union passed their hardest test: matching Los Angeles’ speed of thought and execution. There were barely any moments when the Union appeared overmatched against the visitors’ star-studded attack.
LAFC asserted itself even more strongly in the opening minutes of the second half, and the Union seemed to be on the verge of cracking. But it was still 1-1 when Ilsinho replaced Brenden Aaronson in the 58th minute, with a roar from the crowd accompanying his arrival.
Przybylko ran out of gas in the 74th and was replaced by Sergio Santos during a stoppage of play a moment later.
Santos had a golden chance to score a potential game-winner in the 85th on a breakaway down the left wing, but he shot wide of the far post. And he had another big chance on the Union’s final charge, but an open shot from the middle of the 18-yard box was blocked. Picault shot the rebound over the crossbar.
Meanwhile, the Union’s defense never did crack. Kai Wagner and Mark McKenzie had terrific performances — McKenzie’s was the best of his Union career — and Andre Blake made three impressive saves.
“One of the most entertaining games of the year in terms of the intensity level,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “The speed of the game was as quick as I’ve seen, and I’ve been around this thing [in MLS] for 20 years as an average player and now as a coach. … I couldn’t be more proud of our players for the effort they put forward.”
The performance was just as impressive for who wasn’t in it. Marco Fabián didn’t even make the bench. Curtin said Fabián missed a team meeting the day before the game, and sitting him was the punishment.
“It’s important and serious, but it’s not something that is going to break us up,” Curtin said.