The Union exited Major League Soccer’s tournament Wednesday night with a 2-1 semifinal loss to the Portland Timbers in Kissimmee, Fla., that was deserved but which they nearly salvaged.
Jeremy Ebobisse scored in the 13th minute and Sebastian Blanco doubled Portland’s lead in the 70th. Andrew Wooten scored the Union’s goal — his first for the team — in the 85th, and Sergio Santos missed a penalty kick at the end of the first half.
“We weren’t at our sharpest,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Still had a lot of chances to get back in the game, but it wasn’t meant to be tonight. I won’t allow it to take away from the strides and the growth that the team has made during this competition.”
Portland has long been one of the teams the Union struggle against. The loss Wednesday was the Union’s seventh in 11 all-time meetings, with three ties and just one win.
Both Timbers goals resulted from corner kicks. Ebobisse’s was easy, as he dismissed Kai Wagner on his way to the ball.
The Union had 60% of the possession in the first half and a 9-7 advantage in shots, but just three shots were on target.
It took until midway through five minutes of first-half stoppage time for them to catch a break. Blanco pushed Jamiro Monteiro in Portland’s 18-yard box, and while it wasn’t much, it was enough for referee Allen Chapman to give a penalty kick.
Santos stepped up to the spot for his first-ever penalty kick as a professional — yes, really. He blasted it over the crossbar.
“We’re not going to sit here and blame,” Curtin said when asked why Santos stepped to the spot instead of someone more experienced. “We win as a team and we lose as a team, and he missed, and that happens in sports. We had plenty of time to get a goal, to get opportunities … He’s a striker and he took the penalty, and it happens — he missed.”
The Union’s good possession continued early in the second half, but they didn’t record a shot until a Monteiro free kick in the 60th minute.
Four minutes before then, the Timbers — who were playing on two fewer days of rest — made a double substitution, bringing in left winger Andy Polo and designated player Jaroslaw Niezgoda at striker. Marvin Loria and Ebobisse left.
In the 59th, Curtin sent in Ilsinho for Santos.
Ilsinho’s arrival didn’t do much. The Union were outshot after he entered, with Andre Blake forced to make two big saves just to keep his team in the game.
Blanco finally broke the resistance in the 70th with a close-range header after a corner kick was deflected to him.
Curtin rolled the dice in the 73rd by withdrawing José Andrés Martínez — who was almost completely neutralized in the game — for Wooten.
The Union finally started making an impact in the 79th, when Brenden Aaronson charged down the left wing and lofted a beautiful pass to Wooten at the top of the 18-yard box. Wooten tapped the ball with his first touch to Kacper Przybylko, who had a good look but shot right at Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark.
Five minutes later, Wooten finally put the ball in the net. Monteiro swerved a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box that Clark didn’t catch, and Wooten banged in the rebound from the doorstep.
The Union nearly equalized a minute later. Przybylko put the ball in the net off a setup from Aaronson, but was flagged offside by a hair. The replay booth stopped the game to review the decision, and ultimately upheld it.
There was one last chance in stoppage time, but Alejandro Bedoya shot straight at Clark and he made an easy save.
When will the Union play next? The Washington Post reported Tuesday that it could be as soon as Aug. 21, and that it won’t be in a bubble. MLS commissioner Don Garber said at halftime of FS1′s telecast Wednesday that “we will get back to our markets [and] we will be announcing our schedule soon.”
Never mind Major League Baseball’s tumultuous return to play, or the virus outbreaks among second-division USL teams that are playing in home stadiums. MLS thinks it can succeed. The Athletic reported that teams’ schedules will be very regionalized so that teams can travel to and from venues in one day.
“We learned a lot in the bubble,” Garber said. “We learned about testing, we learned about the incredible commitments of our players, wearing masks and socially distancing and taking real responsibility for keeping themselves safe. That really will give us the sense of what we need to do to finish the season, have playoffs, and have a MLS Cup before the end of the year.”
Garber also said that “we’re going to be able to play with fans where we can, and not play with fans in most of our markets.”
Chester will almost certainly be one of the latter, given Pennsylvania’s limit of 250 people on outdoor gatherings, and Delaware County’s status as a coronavirus hot spot.
Union centerback Jack Elliott said the players "would be ready to go next week," but added they could use some rest after playing six games in Orlando's stifling summer weather.
"I think a good few days off for us would be good to get the bodies back, and I know a few guys are feeling, definitely, some overuse injuries," he said.
Blake lamented yet another Union failure to win a trophy, but reminded everyone of the mental toll taken by spending over a month in the Disney World bubble.