Ties are giving the Union fits in the early going

Posted: April 17, 2014

AT LEAST last Saturday, it was the Union that scored in the waning moments to snatch a tie from the jaws of defeat.

But even though a lifeline header from midfielder Maurice Edu produced a 2-2 score with Real Salt Lake, it doesn't change the fact that it was necessary because the Union yet again surrendered a goal with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation.

It started in the season opener when what should have been an outstanding win at Portland turned into a deflating, 1-1 draw, when the Timbers' Gaston Fernandez headed in a corner kick on virtually the last kick of the game.

In four of its first six matches, the Union has let in a late goal, and three times - against Portland, Montreal and Chicago - it got a tie when a victory should have been the result.

Union matches are starting to look like the movie "Groundhog Day," and manager John Hackworth is sounding like a broken record.

"There is no question that we have tried to analyze this as a staff," Hackworth said. "What it really comes down to is we need to defend better, and we need to do it from the first whistle to the last whistle.

"We've been strong in that area for long blocks of games and then we're losing concentration . . . When all of these plays happen and they happen in the same time frame, it is cause for concern."

Sometimes it can be subtle, but there is normally a cause-and-effect pattern when the same thing happens over and over.

In the case of the Union's late-goal syndrome, it sticks out like a sore foot: late-game substitutions. In each case, the opposition has scored within 15 minutes of Hackworth making substitutions beyond the 75th minute.

During those moments of adjustment when the players who have been on the field are getting in sync with the player or players coming on to the pitch, the Union is getting burned. Holding a 1-0 advantage against Portland, Philadelphia sent on offensive-minded substitutes Danny Cruz (70th minute) and Antoine Hoppenot (80th) to chase a second goal.

Fernandez kicked the equalizer when the Union did not organize well to defend a corner kick.

Again, leading by 1-0, over Montreal, forward Connor Casey (70th minute) was put in for his first action of the season, and Marco Di Vio got the tying goal 10 minutes later.

Juan Luis Anangono brought Chicago even at 2-2 in the 86th minute, about 9 minutes after midfielder Corben Bone made his debut for the Union.

Fortunately for the Union, goalkeeper Zac MacMath prevented a loss by saving a penalty kick in stoppage time.

Most recently, midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who had 29 goals in 327 career MLS games, put Real Salt Lake up, 2-1, within 10 minutes of Casey subbing in and Cristiano Maidana entering after missing the previous game with an injury. Edu's goal in the 90th minute salvaged the tie.

Hackworth said he doesn't think substitutions are the issue.

"Our thoughts are that it is not the substitutions that are causing it, and yet that is a concern, because there is a correlation," he said. "The mistakes we've made are correctable. They're not as much technical or tactical mistakes, as they are with concentration and just poor execution."

Those lapses in concentration have been killers.

The Union is 1-1-4 going into tonight's game at winless New York Red Bulls (0-2-4), but it could be so much better.

For the most part, the Union has controlled play in most of its games; still, it has only seven points to show for it.

"It's been interesting, to say the least," Edu recently said. "I think we've shown that we are capable of being a good team in this league. We've shown we can play.

"We've also shown that we have to be able to play 90 minutes. We've put ourselves in good positions to win games, and now we've got to go out and actually do it."

Points are too precious in MLS to be given away because of late-game lapses in concentration.

Historically, playoff seeding is determined by a point or two.

At the end of the regular season, when playoff spots shake out, a couple of ties instead of wins could make the difference between getting into the postseason and missing out.

Last season, the Union had similar issues with giving up late-game goals. It finished 12-12-10 and was three points behind the final team in the playoffs from the East.

The Union already has given away six points by settling for ties in three games it should have won.

"I'm always looking at it as the glass is half full," Hackworth said. "I think that, with the quality of our team this year, we are built for being successful over the long haul.

"The mistakes that we have made early, these are correctable. I look at that and say we can solve those problems. We can really improve.

"That gives me pause to look at this and think, once we get all of those things sorted out, we're going to be a team that, over this 34-game season, can get those points back."


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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