In front of a sell-out crowd of 19,074, the Philadelphia Union opened their 2012 home campaign with a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Colorado Rapids. Despite a 57th minute red card to Jeff Larentowicz and a 71st minute goal from Lionard Pajoy, the Union were unable to recover from a two-goal deficit brought about by two Rapids goals in a span of six minutes early in the second half.
It was nearly a dream start for manager Peter Nowak and company, with Danny Mwanga getting behind the Colorado defense less than 30 seconds into the match, only to be taken down by Drew Moor from behind. Referee Mark Geiger did not whistle for a foul on the challenge, however, eliciting a roar of boos from the PPL Park faithful.
Making his first start of the season, Mwanga was a focal point of the Union attack early on, combining well with strike partner Pajoy. In the 30th minute, the former Oregon State standout nearly opened the scoring, but was unable to get his foot on the end of a Sheanon Williams chip over the Colorado defense.
In the 41st minute, Keon Daniel – making his first appearance at PPL Park since last August – set the Mwanga up with a lofted ball over the top. The subsequent left-footed shot to the far post was stopped by Matt Pickens, with the rebound pushed tantalizingly across the face of goal. Lionard Pajoy lunged forward to finish the opportunity, but Colorado defender Drew Moor swept away the danger.
While the Union were unable to break through in the opening half, they controlled the run of play, with Colorado rarely testing Zac MacMath. Gabriel Gomez once again provided quality set piece service, creating more than a few nervous moments for the Rapids. Despite the chances the Union attack produced, though, the two sides went to the locker room level at 0-0.
The Union continued to press after the break, but it was Colorado who would find the back of the net first. In the 56th minute, Omar Cummings got to the end line and played in a cross that slipped through the hands of a leaping Zac MacMath. Rapids midfielder Jaime Castrillón tapped in the loose ball at the back post, giving the visitors the lead.
The complexion of the match changed drastically just moments later, though, as FC Delco alumnus Jeff Larentowicz was sent off for his second yellow card.
Despite the subsequent Union onslaught and the man disadvantage, the Rapids managed to double their lead in the 62nd minute. Rookie Tony Cascio got in behind Chris Albright on the wing, moving in on goal before firing a shot under the leg of MacMath.
Looking to cut into the lead, Nowak brought on Roger Torres in the 63rd minute, a move that paid immediate dividends. In the 67th minute, Torres gathered a cleared corner kick and whipped a curling cross into the penalty area. Pajoy met the service just outside the six-yard box, powering a diving header under the arms of Matt Pickens to halve the deficit. The goal put Pajoy in an exclusive club, as he became one of just four players (Sebastian Le Toux, Carlos Ruiz, and Danny Mwanga) to score in their Union home debut.
In the 71st minute, Nowak went to the bench once more, bringing on 18-year-old Cristhian Hernandez. With the substitution, Hernandez became the second Home Grown Player to appear for the Union in a league match.
Just seconds after the switch, the Union came within inches of tying the score. With a few quick cuts, Pajoy eluded a couple of challenges inside the box before putting a pass across the box. Michael Farfan redirected the close-range delivery, but his looping attempt on goal bounced off the crossbar before being cleared away.
Philadelphia continued to push for an equalizer, with Josué Martinez entering the match in the 79th minute. An aggressive aerial challenge from the former Saprissa striker set up Pajoy at the top of the box, but the Colombian’s open look was high and wide.
Despite their best efforts, the Union ultimately could not find a second goal, with Colorado hanging on for the 2-1 victory. The loss was the Union’s first in a home opener, giving the team a 0-2-0 record for the first time to start a season.