CHESTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 07: Matt Reis #1 of the New England Revolution gets set to make a save on a header by Veljko Paunovic #16 of the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on September 7, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Goals abounded in Chester, Pennsylvania tonight as the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union drew 4-4 on a wild evening that saw a three-goal lead reduced to nothing. The Revs went into the half up 4-1 after goals from all over the field, but they appeared to lose their swagger and retreat within themselves in the second half, allowing the Union to claw back into it and eventually level the score.
A.J. Soares and Monsef Zerka scored their first MLS goals, while Rajko Lekic and Benny Feilhaber provided the other strikes for the visitors. Philadelphia came back through Roger Torres, Freddy Adu and, most of all, Sebastien Le Toux. Unlike the last meeting between these two sides, no red cards wer shown, but it did feature two penalties.
The Union began the match the stronger of the two sides, generating two chances in the fourth minute within seconds of each other. First, Sebastien Le Toux found himself played in behind a sleeping Revolution defense and strode into the area, but Matt Reis cut the angle well and saved the Frenchman's angled drive. Just moments later, Veljko Paunovic lofted a ball into Le Toux and yet again the former Seattle man threatened, but his volleyed effort flashed wide of the near post.
At that, the floodgates opened. New England struck first in the ninth minute through A.J. Soares, scoring his first MLS goal in the process. Newcomer Monsef Zerka did very well to gain possession and draw a foul near the corner flag, setting up a free-kick from Chris Tierney. The Massachusetts man's cultured left foot put a great ball into the six-yard box and Soares crashed in unmarked to thunder a header home for an emphatic opener.
Le Toux had another shot saved in the 14th minute before Soares, high on confidence, decided to try his luck from almost 50 yards out and wasn't too far off. Le Toux then set up Philly's best chance of the match up to that point by shimmying Ryan Cochrane out of his socks and playing an excellent floor pass behind the defense for Paunovic, but the Serbian rushed his shot and pulled it wide.
Some controversy ensued in the 20th minute with the Revolution's second goal. Rajko Lekic moved to make a play on an attacking throw in and was caught by the high boot of Stefani Miglioranzi in the box. Referee Jorge Gonzalez pointed to the spot, and the man they call "Psycho" waved off Shalrie Joseph to take the penalty himself. Like he did a few weeks ago against Salt Lake, a cheeky chip down the middle was all he needed to double the Revs' advantage.
Philadelphia tried to claw back in minutes later, but a good delivery from Freddy Adu was wasted by a Danny Califf header straight at Matt Reis. The Revs then went back to work in the 25th minute. Rajko Lekic held up the ball well outside the box with his back to goal before turning and playing a nice ball to the left flank for Tierney. Chris's delivery was sumptuous and soared all the way to the far post, where Zerka simply put his head to it and scored a debut goal to make it 3-0 Revolution.
Rumors of the Union's demise proved exaggerated, however, and three minutes later they were right back in it. Sheanon Williams attempted to play a one-two with Roger Torres on the right but Torres instead turned and curled a gorgeous left-footed effort into the far corner to pull one back for the home side.
New England, though, had apparently grown attached to the three-goal lead, and thus they took it back in the 33rd minute. Some slick passing movement allowed Kevin Alston get the ball to Lekic outside the box. The Danish hitman held the ball before sliding it laterally to Benny Feilhaber, who took a touch forward and rasped a shot across the face of Zac MacMath that nestled into the far corner.
Philadelphia had two more decent chances as they tried to halve the deficit before halftime. Paunovic wasted a brilliant chance by sending an unmarked header wide in the 35th minute, and then Miglioranzi sent a poor long-distance shot high and wide in the 38th.
The second half came out opposite of the first. It was all Philadelphia all the time, with the Union spurred on by coach Peter Nowak's decision to bring on Danny Mwanga and Michael Farfan for Stefani Miglioranzi and Gabriel Farfan. Freddy Adu nearly had himself a goal in the 47th minute but he hesitated in the box and his shot was deflected wide. In the 52nd, Mwanga had a shot deflected that ran out favorably for Carroll, who set up and crushed a shot from distance that only barely missed wide.
They found their goal in the 54th minute through the career resurgence of Freddy Adu. Le Toux played in Mwanga, who took a few touches forward and then laid the ball into the path of Adu on the left. The one-time MLS wonderkid took a touch inside and then finished past Reis to the far post at a tight angle, dropping the Union's deficit to two.
There followed what some (including myself, later this week perhaps) will argue was the major turning point in the match. Despite empirical proof that an early switch to a defensive mentality has hurt the Revolution over and over again in recent matches, coach Steve Nicol elected to sub off Rajko Lekic - who was arguably the better of the two strikers in the game - for defensive midfielder Pat Phelan in just the 58th minute, clearly signaling an intent to retreat into a defensive shell. To his credit, Psycho was furious and took out his frustrations on the seats in the visitor's dugout, in full view of the TV cameras.
Danny Mwanga had the next clear chance of the match in the 66th minute, but his low effort was tame and easily smothered by Reis. Michael Farfan then nearly had a goal when he pounced on a poor clearance and rifled a volley just wide and into the advertising boards. A minute later, substitute Justin Mapp played Sebastien Le Toux free down the right, but when he played a cross along the floor to Paunovic right in front of goal, the Serbian skied it high when it was easier to score.
New England feebly attempted to make their presences felt in the 74th minute. Ryan Guy, who came on a few minutes before for Zerka, started a great breakaway by finding Feilhaber, who fed it wide to Tierney. The winger elected to go it alone and ripped a shot that ended up deflected out for a corner. A minute later, Franco Coria came on for an apparently injured Ryan Cochrane, meaning that the Revs used all three of their subs with more than fifteen minutes still to go, something that would haunt them later.
Pat Phelan became the goat in the 79th minute when, off a long throw in, he hauled down Le Toux in the box and conceded a penalty. The call may have been soft but it still looked to be a good one, and the Frenchman made no mistake, sending Reis the wrong way and burying his shot to make it a nervy 4-3 with Philly ascendant.
Chris Tierney almost forced Zac MacMath into a disastrous error off a free kick in the 82nd minute, but the young rookie was able to gobble up his own spilled rebound before it trickled into the net.
Hearts in New England and in Chester froze for a moment in the 86th minute, though, when Danny Califf accidentally kicked Pat Phelan in the head, rendering the latter flat on his back and out cold on the pitch. It took several minutes for the training staff to get him to even sit up, though eventually he walked off the pitch under his own power. Phelan has struggled with concussions for the last two or three seasons, and this is unlikely to help his situation.
From a tactical standpoint, this also became significant because the Revs were reduced to ten men when Phelan wasn't cleared to return to action. Having already burned their last substitute, they were ill-equipped to deal with this development. It showed.
A minute into stoppage time, a Philadelphia corner was deflected around until it fell to Le Toux, who smashed a half-volley on net and leveled the score at 4-4, completing an incredible and improbable comeback and heaping further frustration on an already woeful season for New England.
Both teams wanted to press on for the winner but Philly was in a better position to do so and nearly stole it away. They weathered a clear breakaway opportunity from the Revs that had Milton Caraglio all alone, but the Argentinean appeared caught in two minds between a shot and a lateral pass to Chris Tierney and ended up wasting a gilt-edged chance to steal back the winner. The Union, meanwhile, had a chance through Paunovic, which Reis saved, and a free kick from Le Toux that Reis caught with literally the last action of the match.