In a stunning disappointment, the Philadelphia Union loses unexpectedly against D.C. United to close out the summer season and head toward fall.
The Union traveled to Audi Field Saturday with a respectable standing in the Eastern Conference and a strong record against Washington. Prior to kickoff, the Union was in 3rd place in the east, eyeing second. They hadn’t lost to D.C. United in regular play since 2017.
Yet behind the scenes of standing and points, the Union has looked concerning this season. The offense is a source of inconsistency. The style of play feels off. The characteristic press remains aloof. Wins and draws have been low-scoring, defense-reliant points eked out in waning minutes on last-minute goals delivered from the bench.
Saturday’s MLS Rivalry Week match against Washington needed to be a win. Given Philadelphia’s track record against D.C. United it should have been a win. Based on Washington’s recent run of play it could have been a win. But Philadelphia Union would concede a 3-1 loss to D.C. United instead. A match meant to assuage lingering questions instead contributed to mounting fears.
Philadelphia Union Loses 3-1 to D.C. United in Should-Win Match
The Union looked stronger in the first half. They held Washington to just one goal scored by penalty and put up the first goal of the match. Washington held the upper hand on possession, passing, and shots taken in the first 45. D.C. was relentless in the attacking third and had a number of close chances. But as always – at least for the first half – Philadelphia’s defensive line proved strong.
Philadelphia’s sole goal of the night was the first goal of the night and it came compliments of the opposing side. D.C. United center-back Steven Birnbaum committed his own goal in the 22-minute to send the Union up one.
D.C. United equalized at the 36-minute. A penalty was awarded after a VAR review to Jamaican right-back Alvas Elvis Powell as he caught the legs of Yordy Reyna in the box.
Always cool from the spot.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) August 29, 2021
The highlight for Philadelphia in the first half comes defensively thanks to this incredible save by goalkeeper Andre Blake which kept Yordy Reyna just shy of a goal in the first half:
— PhilaUnion🛡 (@PhilaUnion) August 29, 2021
Things Fall Apart as Union Concede Two Goals in the Second Half
Things fell apart in the second. Andre Blake and the strong defending line in front of him did their best to keep D.C.’s offense at bay. But by full-time whistle D.C. took nine shots on target to Philadelphia’s two. It’s a tale as old as time at this point, but Philadelphia’s strong defense and all-star goalkeeper can only do so much with an offense that fails to get going.
A goal for D.C. in the 49-minute had Union chasing from behind the rest of the match. Yordy Reyna knocked one in following up on the rebound of a save by Andre Blake.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) August 29, 2021
Philadelphia took back a bit more of the possession in the second half and made 5 substitutions. Looking for that spark from the bench, Jim Curtin sent in multiple teenage talents in Paxten Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan, no strangers to saving their squad with a last-minute goal.
Despite the fresh legs, Philadelphia failed to create in their experimental formation. The diamond shape looked unpracticed on them and rather than come from behind at the last minute to equalize, they gave another one away. Ramon Abila scored in the extra minutes past 90 to send Philadelphia home with a loss, 3-1 to D.C.
Philadelphia Union Loses 3rd Place Standing, Slide to 5th Place in the East
To flummoxed fans, the Union’s performance in D.C. is a fitting summer’s end to a season of reassessment. 2021 has forced the Union’s loyal fans to concede that this just isn’t the team it was last year. The 2020 season brought Philadelphia Union its first trophy, the Supporters Shield, but saw the subsequent departure of some top talent as well as the departure of their rhythm and style of play. They remain strong defensively but have no consistent offense to speak of. They’re now winless in the last 8 games played on the road.
With the loss, the Philadelphia Union loses their third-place standing in the eastern conference and has fallen into fifth. With their next match against Supporters Shield favorites New England Revolution, they’ll likely give away more points in September before taking on Club America on September 15th. They’ll play leg two of the Concacaf Champions League semi-final at home in Chester, PA with something dire to prove.