There were several moments in the Union’s (5-7-4) 1-0 win over D.C. United (5-9-3) on Saturday where their lead seemed destined to slip away.
After taking the lead in the 31st minute off of a Fafa Picault goal, Union goalie Andre Blake was all that stood in the way of a United equalizer in the 70th minute.
United midfielder Lamar Neagle approached the penalty kick hash and delivered a low strike to the right corner of net which was quickly denied by the outstretched arm of Blake.
It was Blake’s first penalty kick save since May 2016 and led to a huge ovation from the Philly faithful in attendance.
“I think it’s the loudest the crowd has been all season on that save,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “That was as loud as this place has got, maybe ever, to be honest.”
But just moments after the jubilation subsided, booing and confusion ensued. In the 75th minute, United midfielder Luciano Acosta was shown a red card after appearing to kick Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin as the two were heading out of bounds. Instead of United playing the rest of the game with 10 men, the referee mysteriously rescinded the card and let play continue.
Unrest and outrage bellowed throughout Talen Energy Stadium as not even a yellow card was given for the seemingly unsportsmanlike foul. In stoppage time, Neagle, who was denied by Blake earlier in the match, had another golden opportunity off of a cross and headed the ball forcefully on goal. Blake denied the shot with another beautiful save off his fingertips, showing off his incredible agility.
The Union hung on for three points and Blake notched his sixth shutout of the season, ending a three-game losing streak.
“He’s, for me, by far the best goalie in the league,” Picault said. “I’m really happy to have him on our side. Every week, week in and week out, he’s shown great performances. It’s emotional for me during the games to watch that. It gives me a lot of motivation to keep going.”
Riding Blake’s hot hand, the ninth-place Union still have a firm grasp on playoff positioning. They’re just five points out of sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They face the New England Revolution (5-7-5) on Sunday, who sit just one spot ahead of them in the standings.
“At this stage of the year, [the win] is a huge three points,” Curtin said. “It’s a fine line between wins and losses in this league, we’ve been on the tough end of some and tonight we came out on the right end because of Andre.”
Sunday’s match will air at 5 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.