CHESTER, Pa. -- Aaron Wheeler picked the perfect time to make his first MLS impact, but it wasn’t enough to save the Union from a devastating 2-2 draw to FC Dallas on Saturday night at PPL Park.
“We’re extremely disappointed to lose two points in that fashion,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “It’s a hard way to feel like you lost a couple points.”
Holding the man advantage as a result of a Je-Vaughn Watson red card, Hackworth rolled the dice and went his bench, replacing veteran Conor Casey with Wheeler in the 79th minute.
In the 87th minute, the 6-foot-4 striker beat his man to the receiving end of a Sheanon Williams cross deep in the FC Dallas box and easily headed it past Raul Fernandez for the 2-1 Union lead.
"The ball comes in and you tuck it away with your head,” said Wheeler. “It felt good, I can’t lie. But my head’s not on cloud nine or anything like that. It’s all business once you go out there. I’ve been playing this game since I was four years old and though it’s at a higher level but it’s the same game. I play soccer; I’m a soccer player.”
Fortune stayed in the Union’s favor in extra time, when Williams seemingly saved a Blas Perez shot that trickled through Zac MacMath and appeared to inch over the goal line. The referees didn’t see the goal and let play continue.
“I was just worried about clearing it off the line, that’s the ref’s job,” Williams said. “He said it wasn’t across the line, so it wasn’t across the line.
“I didn’t give up on the play, I was there at the right time.”
But just when the win seemed in the Union’s pocket, FC Dallas struck back, and Perez found redemption.
Moments later, a long free kick into the Union box hit the hands of MacMath on a weak clear. The ball was played back into traffic on the far post where Perez was waiting. He flicked in a header for the equalizer.
“They tried to do it all game, they wanted to make it a wrestling match and they wanted to get bodies forward,” Amobi Okugo said. “We fell asleep, we should have protected the back line and protected the goal better.”
Williams chalked up the last-second goal up to the size of FC Dallas.
“I haven’t seen a replay, I just saw a bunch of bodies,” he said. “They have to be the biggest team in the league. A bunch of trees going up for one ball, unfortunately they got one over us.”
The post-game talk was whether or not MacMath was interfered with on the play, causing him to fumble the ball.
“It looked like he was impeded on it,” Hackworth said. “I have a bad angle though. The referee needs to make that judgement call, and he didn’t think that was the case.”
The lost points could haunt the Union with a road swing against Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo next on the schedule. Without leading scorer Jack McInerney and Keon Daniel, both of whom are on Gold Cup duty, the 7-5-5 Union will be fighting an uphill battle.
“It feels like we dropped points, especially at home,” Okugo said. “Going on the road with two tough games coming up, without Jack and Keon, we’re going to have to step up.”
The Union paced the scoring early. While contending with the explosive offensive ability of Jackson on one end, the Union countered on the other. Working to creatively thread around the FC Dallas defense, McInerney and Casey nearly found a golden opportunity on the fast break in the 19th minute.
Although the pair of strikers weren’t able to score, the play resulted in an Okugo header in the 20th minute, when he easily redirected a throw-in by Sheanon Williams on the right sideline to make it 1-0 Union.
It was Williams’ fifth assist of the season and fourth off a throw-in. He would add one more, increasing his total to six assists on the season. It was Okugo’s third goal of the season.
“Sheanon puts it where he wants,” Okugo said. “Luckily I was able to get a head on it. He put it right on my head and I was able to put it in.
“We tried to mix it up and run off picks. I was able to get free, Sheanon put in a great ball.”
But just like in extra time, the lead wouldn’t last.
FC Dallas countered just three minutes later when Walker Zimmerman beat Ray Gaddis on the right side of the box and fired off a running header from a Michele free kick to make it 1-1 in finish the first half.
Unable to beat Fernandez and FC Dallas’ back line to begin the second half, the Union got a break. Earning his second yellow card of the game in the 68th minute as a result of a dive, Watson was sent off with a red to give the Union a man advantage for the remainder of the game.
“We dominated when they went down to 10 men, they were playing for the draw,” said Antoine Hoppenot, who entered the game in the 69th minute. “Good teams are supposed to finish off the game, tonight we weren’t able to.”