D.C. United suffered their second-ever loss at Audi Field on Wednesday night, falling 2-0 to the Philadelphia Union in a crucial game in MLS’s playoff chase. CJ Sapong and Fafa Picault scored on either side of the half for the visitors, who are now 12 points ahead of the Black-and-Red in the Eastern Conference.
On short rest after Sunday’s loss at Red Bull Arena, head coach Ben Olsen made just one change to the starting lineup. With Yamil Asad out with a left ankle injury, Zoltan Stieber was handed a start in midfield. It was Stieber’s first start since the win against Orlando City, as Olsen’s switch to the 4-2-3-1 formation had left the Hungarian as the odd man out.
The Union started off the better side on Wednesday night, but couldn’t turn early possession into any scoring chances. Instead it was Rooney who came close to opening the scoring in the 8th minute, as he turned Auston Trusty at the top of the box. Trusty got a touch on Rooney’s shot on the turn, but with Andre Blake beaten, the shot bounced against the post and out of danger.
Two minutes later, Joseph Mora got into the box before finding Rooney. Rooney passed sideways across the top of the 18 to Paul Arriola, who couldn’t find a way past keeper Andre Blake.
Picault had a chance for Philadelphia in the 20th minute, as he brought down a long ball from Jack Elliott in space. Picault cut inside of Oniel Fisher towards the middle of the field, and then fired away, sending a low shot right at Bill Hamid.
Rooney tried the audacious in the 22nd minute, but just barely missed out on an opening goal. Luciano Acosta tricked around Haris Medunjanin in midfield, and quickly found Rooney out to his right. Rooney saw that Blake was off his line and tried to lob the keeper, but was just wide of the mark. Arriola tried to get a touch at the back post, but couldn’t connect with a slide.
The Black-and-Red had looked more likely to score up to that point, but found themselves behind in the 29th minute, courtesy of Sapong’s 4th goal of the season. Sapong and Cory Burke went on the attack together, with Sapong feeding Burke in the box. Burke forced a good save out of Hamid, but the rebound fell right to Sapong, who beat United’s defense to smash the ball home for the lead.
The goal and the hydration break moments later took a lot of the wind from United’s sails, in a game they really needed to win to make up ground in the playoff race. United were adamant that they had a penalty in the 43rd minute, as a ball hit Elliott’s hand in the box. VAR wasn’t consulted though, as replays showed the ball struck Elliott’s hand from close range.
Infirst half stoppage time, Acosta tried to replicate Rooney’ effort from earlier in the half, after getting around Trusty in midfield. Acosta, who had a chipped goal in his first season with United, did not have the same luck, sending a weak shot to Blake.
Ulises Segura was introduced at the half for Fisher, with Arriola taking over at right back.
In the 49th minute, Stieber found Rooney with a long ball in the box, with the English striker able to bring down the ball. However, Elliott, Trusty, and Blake prevented Rooney from ever getting the ball out from under his feet, and the chance was ended.
Borek Dockal tested Hamid in the 51st minute, forcing the goalkeeper to push a shot from outside the box out wide. The Union won a free kick seconds later, and a short pass from Medunjanin found Keegan Rosenberry in space outside the box, and the defender once again put Hamid to the test, as Hamid guided the ball wide of the goal.
The game was all but settled then in the 61st minute, when Picault scored after a nice move from the Union. Dockal found Sapong outwide in the box, with no one closely guarding the former Sporting Kansas City man. Sapong picked out Picault, who smashed a shot past Hamid from close range.
United had another shout for a penalty in the 70th minute on a shot from Rooney. This time, there was no check of the review, as it appeared that the ball might have hit Elliott in his chest.
Alejandro Bedoya, who had a quiet night for most of the game, had a crack at goal in the 76th minute, after a scramble allowed the ball to fall to the midfielder outside the box. Bedoya laced a shot that had Hamid at full stretch, but the ball bent just wide at the near post.
United best chance late on came after a water break, as Acosta and substitute Darren Mattocks exchanged a give and go at the top of the box. But as with many of United’s shots on the night, Acosta’s effort went straight into Blake’s hands.
Picault blazed a shot over in the 87th minute, after Steven Birnbaum blocked Dockal just in front of goal, as the Union comfortably saw out the rest of the game for a critical 2-0 win.
United, with 27 points from 24 games, remains at home for this weekend’s tilt against Atlanta United.