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Match report: Philadelphia Union 1-3 Chicago Fire

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Despite opening the scoring in a wide open contest against Chicago Fire, the Union succumbed to a thirteen minute lapse of focus in which they conceded three goals, and ultimately the game, falling 3-1 on Sunday night. The result puts an end to a four match home winning streak where the Union had begun to re-establish PPL Park as one of the most difficult venues in MLS for any visiting opponent.

The Union grabbed an early lead in the 34th minute when a Freddy Adu cross flew over Chandler Hoffman, whose crashing run put off goalkeeper Sean Johnson, and the recovering fullback, Jalil Anibaba, was unlucky to see his attempted clearing touch play the ball into the back of his own net.

Chicago recovered well with Chris Rolfe at the center of the attack. Rolfe leveled the scores in the 43rd minute before grabbing his brace after halftime, with German international Arne Friedrich’s match-winning header sandwiched in between.

First Half

With the suspended Jack McInerney adding to the selection headache caused by the international call-ups of Carlos Valdes and Gabriel Gomez, John Hackworth rang the changes, creating a new look Union side on Sunday night. Bakary Soumare debuted for the Union against his former club, taking Valdes’ place alongside Amobi Okugo. Sheanon Williams remained at right back while Ray Gaddis got the start on the left, pushing Gabriel Farfan into midfield where he joined his brother, Michael Farfan, and Brian Carroll. Up top, Chandler Hoffman, freshly recovered from a broken toe, led the line in McInerney’s place. Keon Daniel got the start ahead of Lionard Pajoy and ran on the left wing, opposite Freddy Adu.

The Union nearly jumped on Chicago in the first minute as they drove forward off the opening kick. When Michael Farfan’s dummy played Adu into space, he picked out the surging Williams whose curving service found a cutting Daniel. Unfortunately for the Union, the Trinidadian international flashed his header wide of Sean Johnson’s post.

Chicago quickly settled into the game with Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause dictating play from midfield, while Chris Rolfe and newly-signed Sherjill MacDonald proved a handful up front.

In the 9th minute, Rolfe got in behind Gaddis, where Alvaro Fernandez picked him out, but Soumare did well to recover and Rolfe could do little more than cannon his shot off the big defender.

Minutes later, the Union had another chance to open the scoring, this time from a set piece. After Marco Pappa pulled down Williams, Adu hooked the free kick into box, looking for Soumare. With everyone focused on the Malian international, Gabriel Farfan snuck in at the back post and was unlucky to see his header skip off the top of the cross bar from a tight angle with Johnson beaten.

With the Union failing to find Adu or Daniel in the attack, Chicago advanced higher up the field and were soon enjoying a comfortable territorial advantage. Alvaro Fernandez nearly made the retreating Union pay, but after getting behind Soumare, he hooked his shot over the crossbar under pressure from the quickly advancing Zac MacMath.

For all their possession, Chicago was unable to carve out consistent goal-scoring opportunities and when referee Fotis Bazakos waved play on after Adu clattered into Fernandez, the Union were away. But Adu’s through ball to Williams was under-hit, and the Union could only earn a corner.

Despite playing the first half largely on the back foot, the Union would draw first blood in the 34th minute, when Jalil Anibaba put the ball into his own net. Michael Farfan picked out Freddy Adu on the right flank and with plenty of time to measure his cross, Adu spotted the run of Hoffman into the box. The slightest of flicks off of Hoffman’s head saw the ball skip past Johnson, where the arriving Anibaba misplayed his attempted clearance, bundling the ball into his own net for the opening goal.

Buoyed by the first goal of the match, the Union pushed forward, but crosses from both fullbacks were hacked to safety before they could find their targets.

The Union’s lead would be short-lived. In the 43rd minute, Soumare was drawn out to the wing to mark MacDonald and the Union centerback could not match the Dutch striker for pace. Skipping past Soumare, MacDonald picked out a wide-open Chris Rolfe inside the penalty spot and his first-time finish was behind MacMath before he could react.

Giving up a goal in the final 5 minutes of a half is bad enough, but the Union compounded their mistake by conceding again in first half stoppage time. When Anibaba won a corner kick off of Daniel, Marco Pappa directed his service to the near post. Shaking off the much smaller Gaddis, Arne Friedrich beat MacMath to the ball in the air, powering home a free header in front of the badly-beaten Union keeper.

Second Half

It was a gut-punch for the Union who had held the lead moments earlier and coming out of the locker room for the second half, Hackworth pulled off the ineffective Adu in favor of his preferred energy sub, Antoine Hoppenot. With Daniel working out of the midfield and the Farfans operating on the flanks, the Union began to create more chances for Hoffman. Hoppenot, was quickly in behind twice in the opening minutes of the half, though his crosses were cut out by the well-organized Fire defense.

The Union were suddenly flooding the Chicago box with bodies and they nearly had an equalizer in the 49th minute. Off a short corner, Michael Farfan drilled a low ball into Hoffman whose run surprised the Fire, but his shot came off of Johnson and the post. Carroll had the next chance off the resulting corner, but his free header spun agonizingly across the face of goal and away to safety.

Keon Daniel was next to try his luck with two shots from distance, though neither forced a save from Johnson.

The Union were knocking on the door, but on the counterattack a second blunder from MacMath gifted Chicago a two-goal advantage. In the 56th minute, Chris Rolfe collected the ball near the halfway line and took off up the right flank to try his luck from the corner of the box. With MacMath leaning towards an expected cross, Rolfe’s relatively tame shot fooled the young goalkeeper and he could only get a hand to it, pushing it into the top of his net.

It was an insurance goal conceded at the worst possible time as the Union looked on the verge of their own breakthrough.

MacMath did not have long to think about it before he was called on again. In the 60th minute, MacDonald beat Soumare and went in alone on MacMath only to be denied by the feet of the sliding goalkeeper.

With the game stretched, the Union continued to press ahead with half an hour still to play. They were quickly back on the front foot, but could not find a second goal with Chicago content to sit back and defend their two goal cushion. Smart play from Sheanon Williams put Hoppenot in on a two-on-one break with Hoffman, but the substitute took the wrong option, passing just behind his strike partner.

Hoppenot had a chance to redeem himself moments later when Daniel sent him in alone, but with pressure arriving from the defense, the young striker hurried his shot, driving it into the side-netting of the near post.

It seemed the Union were on the verge of pulling at least one back and Michael Farfan nearly found the breakthrough in the 62nd minute when his shot wrong-footed Johnson, but the PPL Park crowd was left groaning when the ball caromed out of play off the outside of the post.

Chicago continued to look dangerous on the counter and Soumare made a vital interception minutes later. After Fernandez shoved Okugo to the ground he raced in with MacDonald, but the debutante slid in to cut out the danger before Chicago could grab a fourth. Soumare still could not get the measure of MacDonald though, as the Dutchman again sliced in behind, but Union fans were happy to see him hit his shot well over the bar.

As the match wore towards the final 15 minutes, the Fire became increasingly content to protect their lead and the Union had no answers for breaking through and finding their way back into the match from open play. They nearly found a set piece goal of their own however, but after clever build-up play from Okugo, Hoppenot and Pajoy earned a corner in the 78th minute, Pajoy was left holding his head after he missed the target with a free header from 8 yards out.

The Union were out of ideas and while substitute Josue Martinez strayed offside twice in rapid succession, Rolfe nearly bagged his hat trick, first with a shot that Soumare headed behind and next with a low volley that MacMath was fortunate to see whistle past his far post.

With time running out to drag themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Union will have to regroup quickly as they travel to DC United for a conference showdown on Sunday, August 19 at 5:00 PM.

Philadelphia Union

Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Bakary Soumare, Raymon Gaddis (Lionard Pajoy ’61); Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan; Freddy Adu (Antoine Hoppenot ’46), Chandler Hoffman (Josue Martinez ’69), Keon Daniel

Unused substitutes: Chase Harrison, Michael Lahoud, Chris Albright, Zach Pfeffer

Chicago Fire

Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Arne Friedrich, Gonzalo Segares; Alvaro Fernandez, Logan Pause (Patrick Nyarko ’43), Pavel Pardo, Marco Pappa (Alex ’63) ; Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald (Mike Videira ’70)

Unused substitutes: Dan Gargan, Paolo Tornaghi, Dominic Oduro, Daniel Paladini

Scoring Summary

34 – CHI: Anibaba OG

43 – CHI: Rolfe (MacDonald, Anibaba)

45+2 – CHI: Friedrich (Pappa)

56 – CHI: Rolfe (Nyarko, Johnson)

Discipline Summary



Fotis Bazakos


  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    What I want to know is why can’t we just lose like a normal team? You know, playing our game and losing anyway, or simply losing to the better team? Why do we seem to have a monthly quota to fill of games where we look like a USL Reserve team that just started training together that week.
    I mean, it was ugly. No one played well. There were no positives to take from that game.

    • This is the downside of youth. MacMath makes errors because he’s young, and dictating play even when chasing a game is the mark of an older, more experienced team than ours.

      • The errors MacMath is making all seem to have a theme — misreading balls coming from distance. I seriously wonder if the guy needs his vision checked.

      • We’re not just young: we are not tall enough, don’t have any ideas, don’t know how to finish, are poorly coached, etc. Very disappointing season.

      • The Black Hand says:


      • Well, I would argue that the finishing problems (Pajoy aside), as well as the lack of ideas, are issues of youth. Finishing is more than technique, it’s mentality, not rushing, not gettign too excited, etc. All those things come with experience. Same with having good ideas for breaking down a defense. As to being too small, thank Peter Nowak. And as for being poorly coached, I think Hackworth’s done a pretty great job so far. That he cannot overcome our shortcomings in every game is no black mark. We can certainly question his lineups and substitutions, but considering the missing players we had coming in to this game, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

      • The Black Hand says:

        It’s getting to be time, to consider the fact that MacMath may not be a professional goalkeeper. Maybe a couple of years in reserves, studying play, will help him get there. Youth cannot always be the blanket excuse for poor play. Footballers peak at very young ages, or at least show great strides towards improvement. MacMath has consistently displayed poor positioning, awful punch attempts and careless challenges (all over the area). I’m not saying that he is solely to blame for our misfortunes but he has made very costly errors that have taken points away from the club.

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        This is a ridiculous assertion. I only need to point you towards the GK we faced last night. A few months ago he was an overrated disaster who single handed was the cause of one of the most embarrassing failures to qualify in US soccer history. He was benched for a few games and the world moved on from him.
        Now? He has had a great month and gets called up to the national team.
        I am by no means making excuses for Zac, those were 100% his errors. But LOL @ that overreaction. Not a professional GK? Years in the reserves? Good god man.

      • MacMath is shook. He needs to sit and maybe long term. You are definitely making excuses for him. Johnson is way better than MacMath…you aint doing MacMath a favor by comparing the two.

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        Are you glossing over what happened months ago? It was a disaster and NO ONE was saying anything positive about Johnson, or even Hamid at that point.
        I agree with sitting him as well, look how it turned out for those two, but this whole “MacMath couldn’t make it in the USL” stuff is nonsense.

      • The Black Hand says:

        The fact that no one was saying anything positive about Johnson, does not change the fact that he is a better keeper than MacMath.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Hahaha! I call em like I see em.

  2. Few thoughts

    On a night where Carlos Valdez was away on international duty and you were starting a new central defender, do you think it was the best idea to 4tart Gaddis at Back and move Garfan up to the midfield?

    The subbing of Pajoy for Gaddis reminded me a lot of the kitchen sink style of subbing that Nowak had.

    How far in Hackworths doghouse is Roger Torres? I know he questioioned his decision making, but after watching this game, what level of bad decision making keeps you off the field? Did they have to install child safty locks in his kitchen because they were afraid of him drinking bleach?

    • Really.. Who’s Torres gotta kill to see some time… Id like to see a Torres/Adu swap.. Although Adu played at the minimum level of effectiveness. I still think Torres could be doing a better job.

    • Torres’ knee aint 100% and he is even slower now. He should not be on the field this year. Maybe and I mean maybe next year and maybe maybe maybe his career is over.

  3. I don’t think we can pin this one on just MacMath. Yes, on the third goal he completely misread the ball. But why were they allowing so many wide open shots in the first place. There was a huge gap between midfield and the defense that Chicago was able to exploit time and again to setup chances. Plus the fact that the Union weren’t hustling to loose balls made me wonder whether they even wanted to win if it took any effort.

    The offensive strategy was ridiculous. Wait for as many people to get into the box as possible then float the ball in to see whether the keeper can catch it or a defender can head it away.

    This was a must win game and no one showed up except Chicago.

    • The third goal was scored on my end of the pitch, and my whole section was yelling for the d to step up to the man you could see the shot coming from a mile away. I’m not saying macmath had a good game, but neither did our defense

  4. Let’s face it guys what we are seeing is men against boys. We can thank Mr Nowak for that.

    Zac is not good on crosses period. (didn’t we go through this already with Seitz?)
    We play way to many short passes to no effect. We have a tiny forward line and I fear the initial surge we got from Hackworth taking over may have faded out.

    Williams just didn’t seem to want the ball last night – he was hiding. Time and again in the second half he failed to make use of the space on the right flank.

    We may have good young players for the future, but boy do we need a little experience now….

    And as for our $800,000 /yr left foot only DP who played on the right side for most of the first half, sorry but he is a midfield flop, can we ship him out please!!!

  5. MikeRSoccer says:

    I honestly thought that Nowak was coaching on Sunday. The blame for this loss rests solely on Hackworth’s shoulders. Even during the game it was clear that the game was winnable, but Hackworth’s egregious changes to the lineup handicapped the overall team performance and that of individual players. The team was forced to make 2 changes on Sunday: for Valdes and Mcinerney, but hack worth felt that it was necessary to make more changes, which included playing two players out of their typical positions. Soumare looked fantastic, but was put in impossible positions by the defensive ineptitude and offensive aggressiveness of RB turned LB Gaddis. (See the first goal). I liked Garfan being tried out in the midfield, but not to start the game, in a key game and with no other adequate LB to replace him. Hoffman had no bussiness being on the field with Hoppenot on the bench and it was even more disturbing that Hack chose to leave him in after the half. He had no chemistry with his teammates and missed through ball opportunities even when the whole stadium saw them and screamed for him to pass. If it wasn’t for Soumare acting as a 1 man defense for half of the 2nd half this game could have been 5-1. That John Hackworth needs to be chained up and thrown off the Commodore Barry. He completely went against everything he has stood for since taking over.

  6. Ok I am no soccer guru, but that was a total team loss. Top to bottom. They looked flat or off or whatever your pleasure. It was a tough game to watch. But if they can pick up their heads and get back to playing like they did last month, we can hope for a strong finish to the season. Nowak ruined what was supposed to a great season. Hackworth was able to bring some of our hope back.lets hope this is just a stumble.

  7. James Korman says:

    I’m having horrible Peter Nowak flashbacks. I hope they go away really soon. Like maybe this weekend?!?

  8. Sean Doyle says:

    Too much finger pointing going on here boys and girls. First and foremost, soccer is a team game. You win and lose as a team. What happened on Sunday night was a team failure, every player on the field bears some responsibility for what happened. Let’s breakdown the breakdowns.
    1. On the first goal, Soumare gets abuses by MacDonald who crosses to an unmarked Chris Rolfe with four Union defenders (Okugo, Garfan, Carroll and Daniel) ball watching and MacMath caught on the near post.
    2. On the second goal, my buddy Zac has to do better. Rigby is terrible on the mic, but he knows goalkeeping and nailed. If Zac is coming off the line, he’s got to get to that ball. This play highlights how important Carlos Valdes is to the Union defense. The way he organizes the defense and wins balls in the air were missed.
    3. The ugliest goal of the night, starts when Gaddis fails to win a header that gets flicked on to Rolfe. The central defense concedes ground to the attacking Rolfe and MacDonald gives Rolfe acres of space to dribble into with very little pressure. Carroll finally recovers but it’s too late as Rolfe beats Zac, who is cheating to the far post.
    4. The Starting XI. I don’t blame Hackworth for his selections on Sunday. His hands were tied by international call ups and suspensions. I do question the selections of Hoffman over Pajoy and Adu over anyone with a pulse.
    What I’d prefer to see the rest of the 2012 season is for Hack to spread minutes across the roster and make players step up and earn their roster spots on the 2013 team. The MLS Cup Playoffs are a bridge too far at this point. Ultimately, last night was an example of a talented, veteran team dispatching a young, shorthanded 9th placed squad.

  9. Josh Kensington U says:

    You’ve got to say that MacMath wins his one on ones almost always, which really is not an expectation for a keeper, though that may show something about the quality of striker in MLS.

    No Valdez is all that really needs to be said. I don’t agree with moving Gabe to midfield, why not have Lahoud start in mid, and when taking out the lynchpin of our defense, keep everything else the same? Still, much as this one hurts, we can always say, no valdez.

    Are we going to the playoffs this year? No. The pros have to keep in entertaining, and say positive things, but it will go easier for your heart, Union faithful, if you realize that we couldn’t get points against Montreal, which is the second worst PPG team in the league, and that was with our best team. Your solace is that we look good, we’re creating chances, we have the Marfian and Kraken Valdez.

  10. Philly Cheese says:

    Plenty of low scores across the board. Ball watching has become contagious on defense. Good marking of attackers needs to step up, not just in set pieces. Other than the cross to Hoffman and perhaps one other time, Adu doesn’t even look up when playing his, “how many crossovers can I do before I can get off a shot” game. Daniel scored from distance several weeks ago, so most of the time other forwards might as well look for four leaf clovers when he has ball anywhere near the goal. Marfan was looking like that too on more than one occasion as well. Someone said “there is no “I” in team”. Perhaps that needs to be posted on Union locker room wall.

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