Philadelphia Union earned their first point of the 2012 season Saturday afternoon, playing to a scoreless draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of a crowd of 17,189 at PPL Park. The result snaps the Union’s three-match losing streak, with Zac MacMath and Philadelphia’s defense preserving a clean sheet for the first time in 2012.
The opening half featured few scoring opportunities, with a majority of the play in the middle third of the field and possession evenly split. The Union’s best chance occurred in the eighth minute, when a ball from Gabriel Farfan found Carlos Valdes behind the Whitecaps back line. Valdes’ pass across the six-yard box was swept away from danger, though, by Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit.
The Union defense, bolstered by the returns of Sheanon Williams and Danny Califf, kept the Vancouver attack in check throughout the first 45 minutes. With support from Gabriel Gomez and Brian Carroll in the midfield, the Union prevented the Whitecaps from registering a single shot on goal. Despite the lack of shots, MacMath was active throughout, coming off his line to control the box.
In the 15th minute, the former Maryland standout made an aggressive sliding challenge outside of the area to clear the ball off the feet of a charging Sebastien Le Toux.
The Union came out of the gates quickly after halftime, with Valdes nearly breaking the deadlock in the 48th minute. A well-struck corner kick from Keon Daniel found the Colombian alone at the back post, but Valdes’ first-time effort bounced off the woodwork before being cleared away.
Just moments later, the Union created another quality scoring opportunity, with a bending cross from Gabriel Gomez finding an unmarked Carroll inside the box. Carroll’s volley attempt, however, was smothered by Joe Cannon.
In the 55th minute, the Union continued to press for a goal, with a driven left-footed strike from Keon Daniel forcing Cannon to make a save.
Second half substitutes Michael Farfan and Jack McInerney added energy to the attack, with the former nearly combining with Gomez inside the box in the 74th minute. The subsequent corner kick from Daniel found the head of Califf inside the six-yard box, but his header sailed over the bar.
The Union defense was nearly punished in the 82nd minute when Le Toux received a pass in behind the back four, but the Frenchman’s shot from 15 yards out flew high and wide.
Both sides battled aggressively in the final minutes, with plenty of whistles and chippy play down the stretch. Despite Philadelphia’s best performance of the young season, ultimately neither side was able to find the elusive opening tally. The Whitecaps continued their run of stingy defense, now having gone 360 minutes without conceding a goal to start the season.
Along with the first point of the campaign, there were a couple of other Union milestones on the day. First round draft pick Chandler Hoffman made his MLS debut, playing 51 minutes as a starter. Danny Califf, meanwhile, broke the Union all-time records for starts (63) and minutes played (5,614), turning in a strong performance in front of MacMath.