CHESTER, Pa. -- Sebastien Le Toux and the Union seemed poised to make Saturday’s season opener at PPL Park a memorable one. Instead, bad defensive habits, missed chances and a steady dose of Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi would ruin the celebration.
Zusi scored and assisted on the second-half game-winning goal, as Sporting KC came from behind to take down the Union, 3-1.
“I can’t think of any way to feel good about anything that just happened,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “I’m glad Seba is here, I’m glad he scored a goal in his first game back, but this is a team sport. From our perspective it’s unacceptable to play at PPL Park and lose the way we did.”
With the loss, the Union are 2-4-0 in their last six games at PPL Park dating back to last season.
Although the Union ended the game poorly, it didn’t begin that way. After controlling much of the first-half possession and pushing at the Sporting KC net with persistence, the Union pounced on a mistake by KC defender Chance Myers and made it count.
Played back by the SKC midfield, the ball slipped through Myers’ legs and trickled to Keon Daniel on the left side of the attacking box. Placing a strong cross to an open Le Toux at the top of the crease, the Frenchman gathered the pass and easily beat Jimmy Nielsen for the 1-0 Union lead.
“It was a great ball from Keon,” Le Toux said. “The ball was on the second post and I was able to keep the ball near my body and stay near my run. I hit it right away. I’m lucky it went in. I’m glad it happened, we worked on it at practice and it’s a play I like to do.”
It was Le Toux’s first goal in a Union uniform since Oct. 15, 2011, against Toronto FC and his 26th goal all-time with the club.
Despite grabbing the lead, the Union kept pressing. Le Toux nearly buried his second of the game in the 23rd minute off a fast-break pass from Sheanon Williams. With an open look at the goal, Le Toux placed the shot wide.
“It was huge for me and I’m not happy with myself about this one,” Le Toux said. “I should have scored. It would have made it 2-0 and changed the game, so I’m mad at myself. I’m disappointed.”
Two minutes later, Ray Gaddis, playing left back, was hauled down at the top of the SKC box by Aurelien Collin for the dangerous free kick. Taking the shot was Michael Farfan, whose line drive volley was impressively pushed away by a diving Nielsen. The Union finished the opening half with 11 attempted shots and four corners.
“If we score the second goal the game is over,” said Williams. “Their heads would have dropped and maybe then we get a third and fourth. That didn’t happen. After they got a goal we put our heads down. We didn’t start the second half the way we wanted to. It wasn’t a good second half and we have to do better.”
Unable to take advantage of their pressure and extend the lead, the Union fell back into bad habits. Scrambling to recover on defense in the 41st minute, Zusi accepted a pass from Bobby Convey into the Union box and fired off an uncontested shot that was bluntly saved by Zac MacMath. However, the Union stood around as witnesses while the rebound sat in the crease, allowing Zusi to slam home the score and tie the game at one through 45 minutes.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Hackworth said. “We feel like we let the fans down and we feel like we let ourselves down. We felt like we should have been up a couple goals and to let one up in the last five minutes of the first half, it’s so far from what we’ve worked on.”
Unable to regain their first-half footing, the Union fell behind in the 66th minute, when a free kick from Zusi found the head of a streaking Oriol Rosell for the 2-1 SKC lead.
“To give one back on a free kick, that undoes us a little bit,” Hackworth said. "Not even having the right amount of courage and fight in us to get one back, when we should have. We’re very disappointed.
“We’re not going to be world-beaters, so we have to maximize being good in both boxes.”
The visitors extended their lead to 3-1 in the 83rd minute, when Claudio Bieler found the net on a pass from Myers.
“It’s about execution and that’s what Sporting KC did,” Hackworth said. “We pushed the game the right way and did what we wanted to do. But we didn’t execute.”