Photo: Earl Gardner
On a night when Philadelphia Union’s spirited fightback should have been the major talking point, another questionable refereeing decision has grabbed the headlines. With ten minutes remaining, referee Fotis Bazakos pointed to the spot as Brian Ching fell theatrically to the deck after the slightest of contact from Gabriel Farfan, allowing the Houston striker to net a penalty kick for the game-winner BBVA Compass Stadium.
Houston had opened the scoring on 20 minutes when captain Brad Davis took Maccoumba Kandji’s pass and nestled his shot inside of Zac MacMath’s far post.
After being thoroughly outplayed in the first half, the Union stormed out of the gates after halftime, and Keon Daniel leveled the score less than a minute into the second stanza. Both teams traded chances in a sloppy match where the points looked destined to be shared, but Bazakos’ decision in favor of the home side effectively settled the contest.
With suspension and illness forcing mandatory changes, coach John Hackworth shuffled his deck on Saturday evening. Sheanon Williams returned to the starting lineup for the suspended Ray Gaddis, while Jorge Perlaza made his first start in a Union shirt with Jack McInerney out with a stomach bug. Freddy Adu and Michael Lahoud dropped to the bench, with Keon Daniel and Gabriel Gomez taking their places, respectively.
Despite the momentum the Union had built through victories against Sporting Kansas City and Harrisburg City Islanders, Hackworth’s side came out flat on their first trip to Houston’s new stadium.
Zac MacMath nearly gifted the hosts an early advantage, flapping at the first corner he faced, but fortunately Gabriel Gomez slid in well to save the day with MacMath stranded off his line.
Houston quickly found control of the midfield with the Union lacking in sharpness and work rate. US international Geoff Cameron ran the show from midfield for Houston, and they dominated possession in the early going.
In the 11th minute, however, the Union had the first true goal-scoring chance. Michael Farfan played Lionard Pajoy into space, and the Colombian found the streaking Jorge Perlaza. In the end, the debutante’s shot was poor, missing the near post and failing to trouble Tally Hall.
Lacking the energy and quality to pressure Houston, it was the closest the Union would come in the first half, and the hosts spread the ball at their leisure.
In the 20th minute, Houston got their breakthrough.
Sheanon Williams left Maccoumba Kandji time and space to turn in the box. Kandji slipped the ball through to an onrushing Brad Davis, who had shaken free of Michael Farfan’s attention. Though MacMath flew off his line to cut down the angle, Davis had little difficulty curling the ball beyond him into the side netting.
Deflated by the opening goal, there was no fightback from a lethargic Union side that continued to concede territory and absorb pressure.
As the half wore to a close, Kandji shook off Amobi Okugo, forcing the Union defender to concede a foul. With the Union disorganized, Davis’ quickly played set piece found Geoff Cameron at the near post, though he was unable to keep his header down.
Minutes later, Kandji again proved dangerous when his run eluded both Williams and Okugo. It was only a sliding clearance from Gabriel Farfan that kept Houston from doubling their advantage before they headed into the locker room.
Though no changes were made during the intermission, the Union came out of the break with the intensity and energy that had been lacking during the first 45 minutes. Pressing higher up the field, they were rewarded immediately.
Perhaps content to see out the result, Houston sat deep in their end, and a simple move from the Union earned them the equalizer less than a minute into the second half. Michael Farfan switched fields to Brian Carroll, who drove forward before playing a seemingly innocuous pass to Keon Daniel. But when Houston failed to offer resistance, Daniel had time to turn and settle the ball before wrong-footing goalkeeper Tally Hall with a 25-yard drive to his far post.
Instantly, Philadelphia were on the front foot, and Houston struggled to offer a reply against the suddenly rampant Union.
In the 49th minute, the Union had two chances to storm into the lead. With Sheanon Williams leading the charge up the right wing, Michael Farfan took his pass and exchanged a quick wall pass with Jorge Perlaza before lashing his shot to the near post. Unfortunately for the Union, Tally Hall got to ground quickly, pushing Farfan’s shot away.
In the ensuing scramble, Williams tracked down the loose ball and squared smartly for Lionard Pajoy at the back post. With a wide open net to look at from three yards out, Pajoy badly misplayed his finish, pushing the ball away from goal and back into the center of the pitch, where it was easily cleared.
Having weathered the Union’s brief storm, Houston regained their footing and controlled the midfield as they had in the first half. Despite the pressure, they were still unable to provide their regular service to target man Will Bruin, who was well looked after by Carlos Valdes. Bruin’s most dangerous contribution came in the 66th minute when he shoved Valdes to the ground, taking the ball through force. When Bazakos failed to spot the infraction, Bruin found Kandji, but Amobi Okugo’s brave sliding tackle ended the threat.
Antoine Hoppenot’s introduction for the ineffective Perlaza showed coach Hackworth’s commitment to earning a valuable road victory, but with Pajoy dropping deeper into the midfield to cover his defensive duties, Hoppenot was always going to have a tough time playing as a lone striker.
In the 72nd minute, he nearly had the Union in front, latching onto Gabriel Farfan’s cross with an acrobatic spinning effort, though he could not keep it under the bar.
As fatigue set in, the match grew stretched, swinging from end to end.
Houston had a shout for a penalty kick when Brian Ownby and Gabriel Farfan clashed in the box. In playing the ball, Farfan took the brunt of Ownby’s force as the two crashed together, with the referee rightly ruling play to continue.
In the 80th minute, Gabriel Farfan was again involved in the box, but on this occasion Bazakos made the call that would decide the match.
With Houston building up their left flank, Okugo slid in smartly to take the ball off of Boniek Garcia. Unluckily for the Union, the ball fell for Brad Davis. When the Dynamo captain whipped his cross into the box, Brian Ching flopped to the ground under the slightest of contact with Farfan. Bazakos took the bait, blowing for the penalty kick. Ching sent MacMath the wrong way and was fortunate to see his shot careen in off of the underside of the bar.
It was a knockout punch for the Union who, despite improving dramatically in the second half, were forced to leave Houston with nothing to show for their efforts. The last throw of the dice came through late pressure from the combination of Hoppenot and Pajoy, but the pair could not conjure any last minute magic.
Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams (Freddy Adu ’83), Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan; Brian Carroll, Gabriel Gomez (Michael Lahoud ’75), Michael Farfan; Keon Daniel, Jorge Perlaza (Antoine Hoppenot ’64), Lionard Pajoy
Unused Substitutes: Chris Konopka, Roger Torres, Chris Albright, Josue Martinez
Tally Hall; Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, Corey Ashe; Luiz Camargo (Warren Creavalle ’79), Brad Davis, Geoff Cameron; Boniek Garcia, Will Bruin (Brian Ching ’74), Macoumba Kandji (Brian Ownby ’71)
Unused Substitutes: Cam Weaver, Nathan Sturgis, Tyler Deric, Colin Clark
20 – HOU: Davis (Kandji)
46 – PHI: Daniel (Carroll)
83 – HOU: Ching (PK)