The Union was hoping to leave PPL Park with three invaluable points as it desperately tries to make the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Instead, it ended up with one point for a 1-1 tie with Colorado on Saturday, and angry about a costly, questionable non-call.
In second-half stoppage time, a lofted pass from Roger Torres to leading goal-scorer Sebastien Le Toux offered another chance at glory. Le Toux headed the ball into space for himself and used speed to break free of an initial shirt-grab from Rapids defender Drew Moor.
Inside the box, Moor then grabbed an even bigger handful of Le Toux' shirt and the pair bumped knees, causing a tumble.
FIFA rules see a shirt-grab-and-pull as an infraction, called obstruction. Lead referee Terry Vaughn, a FIFA-sanctioned official, did not.
Union video coordinator Carl Mandell allowed the Daily News to watch the infraction frame by frame. After careful review of the footage multiple times, the replay showed a handful of shirt and knee-on-knee contact.
"I did not see enough on that play for it to warrant a foul or a penalty," Vaughn said. "I have yet to see the replay, but I trust the linesman. We all work together as a crew and whatever they say I will enforce."
To that, Union manager Peter Nowak says hogwash, as he again railed against what he considers to be poor work by MLS match officials.
"I asked [Vaughn] after the game, 'What else can you do to make the right decision?' It's not the first time at the end of a game that we're in this situation that is pretty controversial," Nowak said. "I understand that the game is based on mistakes and human errors. I understand that the decision has to be made in a split-second . . . but that's why we have a fourth official who has a radio. That's why we have that communication."
Match officials are allowed to provide their "overall analysis of the game" to a pool reporter. According to match officials, they don't have to answer specifics and reporters are not allowed to record the conversation. However, a league executive said there is no prohibition against recording officials' comments.
Ultimately, the communication breakdown cost the Union a shot at three points, just another heaping pile of incidentals this season that has the team at 4-10-5 with 11 league matches remaining. The playoff outlook is bleak now, even in a lackluster Eastern Conference. The Union travels to face D.C. United, the last-place team in the East, on Sunday.
In the game, Danny Mwanga scored off a pass from Le Toux just above the penalty spot in the 73rd minute. Mwanga slipped it past Rapids goalie Matt Pickens for his seventh goal of the season. Chestnut Hill Academy alum Jeff Larentowicz had given Colorado a 1-0 lead with his second goal of the season in the 59th minute on a 25-yard blast. That left Union goalie Chris Seitz still looking for his first shutout.
But the unseen shirt grab was the culprit in not capturing three points.
"I have said it before and I think every player and coach in this league would agree that all we ask is for the game to be called with consistency," said Union forward Alejandro Moreno. "What's a foul in the first minute needs to be a foul in the 90th and that's just not been happening."