Photo: Michael Long
With both Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union looking to rediscover their league form, the sides were forced to share the points following a sloppy match at PPL Park on Friday night. Typically billed as attacking sides, both the Union’s John Hackworth and RSL’s Jason Kreis elected to field a solitary striker, creating a stalemate in the center of the park.
Second-half substitutions nearly created some late fireworks, but in a match where neither outfit did enough to grasp control of the proceedings, a 0–0 scoreline was a fair result. In what is becoming an all too familiar refrain in Chester, PA, Hackworth lamented, “Created a couple of really good chances there, unfortunately we didn’t finish.”
Despite needing three points from the contest, coach John Hackworth took a conservative approach. Dropping his preferred 4–3–3 into what more closely resembled a five midfielder formation, Jack McInerney ran alone up top with support from a rotating threesome of Danny Cruz, Michael Farfan and Gabriel Gomez, the latter returning to the starting XI in place of Freddy Adu. Michael Lahoud and Brian Carroll rounded out a crowded midfield, screening a Union defense that featured Ray Gaddis in place of the suspended Sheanon Williams.
Real Salt Lake came out the faster of the two sides, despite having hosted Panama’s FC Tauro at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday. With the Union playing slowly out of the back, Alvaro Saborio’s pressure saw Amobi Okugo turn the ball over, but Saborio’s shot was weak.
Moments later, Javier Morales won a free kick in a dangerous spot, but the chance came to nothing when Saborio was flagged for offsides.
The Union were struggling to connect their passes in midfield as Real Salt Lake pressed high and forced the issue. And when Carlos Valdes and Gabriel Farfan’s miscommunication resulted in an RSL corner, the visitors nearly pounced. Fortunately, Valdes was quickest to react to a ball that was allowed to bounce inside the 6-yard box, pounding it clear after it rattled dangerously among a sea of legs.
Michael Farfan looked to turn the offensive impetus towards the Union in the 16th minute when he set off on a surging run, beating two defenders before earning the Union their first corner of the night. RSL quickly began to regard Farfan as the danger man for the Union, with Beckerman scything him down moments later.
Despite the success they were finding, the Union continued to rotate their midfield, swapping Gomez, Cruz and Michael Farfan across the middle. Far from the desired effect of confusing their opponents, the constant shifting disturbed any flow the Union were developing and the missed connections began to mount.
A turnover from the Union nearly proved costly in the 30th minute when Saborio earned a dangerous free kick on the counter attack, but Okugo’s defensive header was well-timed to see out the danger.
Okugo and Valdes continued to push higher and, with referee Jair Marrufo failing to reward Javier Morales for a series of increasingly theatrical tumbles, the Union grew in confidence. Still, the Philadelphia side wasted their chances with Gomez, Carroll and Lahoud all guilty of cheap turnovers following strong defensive plays.
As the match wore towards halftime, the Union nearly grabbed a surprising lead following tenacious defensive work from McInerney. Chasing the RSL defense and forcing a deflection, Michael Farfan pounced on the loose ball, skipping past two defenders before playing in Cruz. With the full goal to aim for, Cruz blazed his open shot well over the bar, before crumbling to the ground in disgust.
If the first 45 minutes were lacking in intrigue, a flash point early into the second brought a spark to the contest. When the Real Salt Lake defense failed to deal cleanly with Lahoud’s cross, both Okugo and Cruz had a look at the rebound. Neither player saw the other, however, and in the confusion, Cruz’s shot bounced harmlessly to Rimando. Valdes followed the play in on net and when Rimando collapsed to ground after minimal contact, the veteran goalkeeper’s teammates swarmed the Union captain. Referee Marrufo took no measures, but the temperature of the match was ratcheted up a few degrees.
Minutes later, the Union continued to press forward and Michael Farfan released McInerney into the RSL box. But, driving away from goal, his first time effort was easily smothered by Rimando. Content to sit deep and defend, RSL saw the Union lay siege to their box.
Rimando caught Gabriel Farfan’s cross comfortably before Nat Borchers was forced to intervene after Valdes’ cross-field ball picked out Gomez in space. Looking for McInerney streaking in at the back post, Borchers’ header gave the Union a corner.
The pressure continued to mount as Cruz’s delivery into the box curled toward the front post where Ned Grabavoy headed off his line before Okugo mishit his follow-up volley attempt.
Both sides clashed again in the 57th minute when Chris Wingert crashed in on Michael Farfan, scissoring the Union playmaker’s legs in a dangerous tackle. While the Union players were furious with the tackle, RSL was equally displeased with the Farfan’s kick out when he attempted to shake free of Wingert. While referee Marrufo brandished a yellow card for both players, the confrontation dramatically altered the contest with RSL looking to intimidate their younger opponents.
In the play that immediately followed, Real captain Kyle Beckerman continued to play with aggression, first challenging Okugo before clattering into Lahoud.
Though the match became open and frayed, the Union kept their composure as they sought out an opener. In the the 66th minute, Michael Farfan again carved out a chance when he played McInerney into space. Unfortunately for the Union, Borchers continued his sharp defensive play, cutting out the chance before Lahoud could pound it home.
With the Union looking bereft of ideas in the final third, Antoine Hoppenot entered the match as coach Hackworth looked for a player who could finish off one of the Union’s attacking moves.
Hoppenot got his chance in the 80th minute after a dangerous free kick picked out McInerney at the back post. Knocking the ball back towards goal, Valdes latched onto the ball with a bicycle attempt that had the RSL defense scrambling. When the ball fell to Hoppenot, the striker had an open goal to aim for, but scuffed his shot into the ground and another opportunity went begging.
With 10 minutes to play, both sides seemed resigned to a draw. RSL substitute Johnny Steele nearly snatched a late winner when he ghosted in behind Gaddis. Rarely called upon during the previous 84 minutes, Zac MacMath was sharp, flying off his line to get a hand to Steele’s first effort before chasing the play to the endline and pouncing on the ball before Steele could cut it back across the face of goal.
It was end-to-end action in the final minutes, and Freddy Adu, who entered the match in the 82nd minute, had a chance to settle the contest at the other end after a strong run from Michael Farfan. Cutting past two defenders to the endline, Farfan’s cut back rattled around before finding Adu at the top of the box. Foregoing the first time shot, Adu attempted to dribble through two defenders, only to see the ball stripped from his feet.
A tired Real Salt Lake side was holding on against a surging Union attack and Okugo nearly got his first Union goal of the year in stoppage time. After Tony Beltran bundled over McInerney, Adu curled a teasing ball into the box. Slipping free of his defender, Okugo’s first-time volley looked destined for the back of the net, but the retreating Kwame Watson-Siriboe was in the right place to clear the effort.
With their last throw of the dice, Michael Farfan picked out his brother racing up the left wing. Spotting the cutting Hoppenot, Gabriel Farfan’s ball found his striker in an offside position.
The Union will be back in action on Wednesday when they look to break their four game winless streak against Columbus Crew at 8:00pm at PPL Park.
Zac MacMath; Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan; Michael Lahoud, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Gabriel Gomez (Freddy Adu ’82), Danny Cruz (Antoine Hoppenot ’71); Jack McInerney
Unused substitutes: Chase Harrison, Chris Albright, Porifirio Lopez, Keon Daniel, Josue Martinez
Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Chris Wingert; Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy (Yordany Alvarez ’74), Will Johnson, Luis Gil (Johnny Steele ’62), Javier Morales (Paulo Araujo Jr. ’86); Alvaro Saborio
Unused substitutes: Kyle Reynish, Chris Schuler, Sebastien Velasquez, Justin Braun
59 – RSL: Wingert (caution)
59 – PHI: M. Farfan (caution)