The Union came just seconds away from securing one of the all-time great wins in team history. But a last-second botched clearance of a corner kick by team captain Brian Carroll gave the Portland Timbers an equalizer, and consigned Philadelphia to a 1-1 draw at Providence Park.
If you had told Union fans - and perhaps the team too - that they'd come out of Major League Soccer's most hostile venue with a draw on opening night against what might be MLS' best team, you probably would have gotten a lot of people to take it. But this result will be hard to stomach.
"You can hear our locker room - we're standing right outside of it, [and] it feels more like a loss than it does a win," Union manager John Hackworth said after the game. "I guess that's a good thing, because the players know that we gave away two points there, but we did enough to get three. We have to clean up some game management issues and handle that, learn how to close out a little bit, but good overall performance."
For much of the night, the Union matched the Timbers blow-for-blow. John Hackworth's trio of new signings - Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana - played very well together, and created many nice chances. New centerback Austin Berry was arguably Philadelphia's man of the match, making many big stops and meshing right away with Amobi Okugo.
With that said, the Union got away with a few lucky breaks when Portland failed to convert chances it should have. Of particular consequence was Diego Valeri astonishingly whiffing on an open look from about 12 yards in the 57th minute.
The Union made Portland pay for those misses in the 65th minute. Jack McInerney, the Union's top striker, redirected a Maurice Edu header off a Cristian Maidana corner kick past Portland's Donovan Ricketts. Last season's MLS Goalkeeper of the Year could only stand frozen and watch the ball sail by.
Two years ago, the Union opened their season in Portland, and they scored first. They went on to concede three goals in the last 36 minutes, though, and were consigned to defeat.
Portland manager Caleb Porter and his players threw the kitchen sink at the Union after McInerney's goal. But this time, there was no avalanche. Okugo, Berry and Zac MacMath stood resolute and cleaned up everything that came their way. It seemed John Hackworth had made all the right moves to claim a stunning victory.
In the final seconds of stoppage time, disaster struck. A few moments after giving possession away in midfield with an ungainly clearance, Carroll found himself in trouble again. He botched a clearance of a Will Johnson corner kick, and the ball went straight to the head of newly-signed Timbers forward Gastón Fernández. The Argentine Designated Player made no mistake with his chance, heading the ball high past MacMath.
Cue mass delirium in Portland and mass dejection in Philadelphia.
"We're happy with the way we played for 93 and a half minutes and then giving up the goal in the end is unacceptable," MacMath said. "We know that going forward and that's something we have to cut out of our game."
In the long term, the result shouldn't look that bad. Portland is among the favorites to win this year's Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup, and the Timbers rarely lose at home. Any road result can be reasonably seen as a positive, especially in the wild atmospheres that define the Pacific Northwest.
"You have to think that there's a lot to build on in that game," Hackworth said, and he was right.
It also should not go unnoticed that of the four Eastern Conference teams that played Western Conference opponents on Opening Day, only the Union came away with a point. Defending champion Kansas City lost at Seattle, Montréal lost at Dallas and New York was blown out at Vancouver.
In the short term, though, the result will surely sting the Union. Their first chance to make up for it comes Saturday at PPL Park, as the New England Revolution come to town. They suffered an even worse result on Opening Day, a 4-0 rout at the hands of the Dynamo in Houston.
That game will be the first of four straight against the Union's chief rivals for playoff places. After the Revs, Philadelphia will visit Columbus (March 22), host Montréal (March 29) and visit Chicago (April 5). All of those games will be much more crucial than Saturday's was.
For now, though, this one hurts.
Read below for a summary of the game as it happened.
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Providence Park, Portland, Ore.
TV: Comcast SportsNet (J.P. Dellacamera and Peter Pappas)
Portland Timbers (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts
Defenders: Michael Harrington, Pa Modou Kah, Norberto Paparatto, Jack Jewsbury
Midfielders: Diego Chará, Will Johnson / Gastón Fernández, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe
Forward: Max Urruti
Bench: GK Andrew Weber; D Futty Danso; Ms Kalif Alhassan, Michael Nanchoff, Steve Zakuani, Ben Zemanski; F Frédéric Piquionne
Philadelphia Union (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Zac MacMath
Defenders: Fabinho, Austin Berry, Amobi Okugo, Raymon Gaddis
Midfielders: Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll / Cristian Maidana, Vincent Noogueira, Sébastien Le Toux
Forward: Jack McInerney
Bench: GK Andre Blake; D Aaron Wheeler; Ms Corben Bone, Danny Cruz, Leo Fernandes, Michael Lahoud; F Antoine Hoppenot