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Sunday 11 September 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Midweek Round 26 – Of Two Struggling Sides Proffering a Potential Match of the Season in a Fixture that was Never Meant to Be.

    A single midweek fixture dots the round twenty-six list, though it was originally scheduled for August 28th – having been cancelled due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene. An eight-goal thriller between home side Philadelphia and New England – two teams in the midst of six-match winless streaks – battled to an entertaining 4-4 draw.

    Rookie keeper Zac MacMath was in net for the Union – his first MLS start – and his defense did him no favours as New England capitalized on some sluggish pressing and marking to score three goals in the opening twenty-six minutes. Crosses from Chris Tierney set up two of the goals, firstly from a right-sided endline free kick - headed in by AJ Soares at the near post - then from a left-sided open-play delivery that eluded the Philadelphia defender - finding the head of newly signed French-born Moroccan Moncef Zerka at the far post – for both it was their first goal in MLS. The two Tierney set-ups were split by a Rajko Lekić penalty kick – set right down the middle - after he had been fouled by Stefani Miglioranzi at the top corner of the box.

    Though the scoreline implied otherwise it was not a one-sided match. Sébastian Le Toux had two early chances to open the scoring, while Veljko Paunović could have equalized the score at one. Roger Torres did pull one back minutes after New England’s third goal, collecting a pass from Sheanon Williams at the top of the box making space for himself with a nice touch and turn before floating his shot high in at the far post.

    Benny Feilhaber responded to complete the first half scoring a few minutes later, hammering a Lekić square ball at the top of the arc low across the keeper in at the left post. New England went into the half nursing a three-goal lead that never looked particularly secure.

    The Union began the first half with two substitutions – Danny Mwanga and Michael Farfan in for Gabriel Farfan and Miglioranzi. It was Mwanga that made an instant impact as Philly sought to rectify the disparity; he slid a clever pass into the right-sided channel for Freddy Adu. The American-Ghanaian calmly slotted underneath Matt Reis to draw the Union within two; it was Adu’s first MLS goal since he left in 2007. 

    It was then up to Le Toux, fresh off finally scoring in the run of play last match, to pull his team to within one as he was barged over by Pat Phelan in the New England box. Le Toux converted the spot kick himself, sending Reis the wrong way and stroking the ball low to the keeper’s right.

    Out of substitutions, New England went down a man after a lengthy stoppage in play when Pat Phelan took an accidental boot to the head from Danny Califf. Considering the issues with concussion that Phelan has had in his young career, it was the right decision that he not return to the pitch, though it did prove costly for his side.

    With Philadelphia pushing and New England bunkering, the fourth official announced seven minutes of stoppage time. The Union only needed two to finally tie the match as Carlos Valdés sent the ball back into the mixer, Paunović settled it for Le Toux who volleyed the equalizer past Reis low at the near post.

    The action was far from finished as Milton Caraglio squandered a New England breakaway by trying to cut around the recovering defenders, losing the chance in the process, while Paunović sent a meek shot directly at the New England keeper at the opposite end of the pitch.

    The draw was a fair result on the night; though in earnest Philadelphia could have scored a boatload more. New England converted almost every chance they made, while Philly proved wasteful. Both sides winless streaks are stretched to seven matches, though Steve Nicol and the Revolution will rue wasting their three-goal lead. Philadelphia continues to find themselves as a collective unit; Zac MacMath would not be happy with his full debut, but could not be faulted for any of the goals he conceded.

    The Union remains at home to host Portland on Saturday night, while the Revolution return to the Boston area to host Dallas that same night. 

Philadelphia v New England 4-4.

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