Park Hill's Lee makes MLS debut with Union at Sporting Park

BRYCE MERENESS/Citizen photo Philadelphia Union defender Raymond Lee, center, a Park Hill graduate, defends Sporting KC forward Krisztian Nemeth. Lee made his MLS debut as a 78th-minute substitute in the Union’s 3-2 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, April 5 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Philadelphia Union defender Raymond Lee, a former standout at Park Hill, entered the field in the 78th minute to few cheers but mostly a chorus of boos.

Sporting Kansas City fans were not happy with the plague of injuries that ravaged the visiting team with the visitors clinging to a 2-1 lead on Sunday, April 5 at Sporting Park. This injury may have been more legitimate as the Union’s starting left back Fabinho could not continue, earning Lee — a rookie taken in the most recent Major League Soccer draft — a chance to make his professional debut in a home atmosphere.

Even if the fans probably weren’t concerned with his local ties at the time.

“It was exciting,” Lee said. “Very exciting, especially since my family and friends came to the game, too. It’s been enjoyable. I’m living the dream. I feel I worked very hard to get here, through college and being drafted and in preseason. I feel good about earning a spot (in the team).”

Lee admittedly entered in a difficult position for a debut, transitioning to a defensive role after playing in the midfield at Park Hill and then during his collegiate career at St. Louis University.

“We’re banged up,” Philadelphia manager Jim Curtin said. “We went pretty deep through the bench. Fabinho got kicked on the bottom of the foot and had to come out of the game. Raymond Lee stepped in for him — into a tough spot — for a rookie to go into. He did an OK job, but in the end, we leave here with nothing so we’re not happy.”

Sporting KC continued to push for an equalizer, and the Union held strong until the 90 minutes were up. The fourth official indicated six minutes of added time, and Sporting scored twice to steal a victory and three points.

Lee ended up playing an unfortunately prominent role in the loss.

With the score tied 2-2, the 21-year-old marked Sporting’s Krisztian Nemeth on a late corner kick. Benny Feilhaber played the ball in, resulting in a flick from captain and centerback Matt Besler. The ball bounced and ended up in the net for the winning goal, although though it is unclear who was responsible for the goal.

Initially, Lee received the distinction of an own goal, but club officials later credited it to Nemeth. The final ruling will ultimately be made by the MLS goals panel.

“I’m mad. I’m disappointed. I feel like I let my teammates down,” Lee said. “They’re building me up right now. They’re saying it’s OK and to learn from it. I’m trying to cope with it right now. I’m going to listen to what they say and learn from it and go up. Keep moving forward.”

Lee said about 10 friends and family came out to watch him make his debut.

While at Park Hill, Lee earned Class 3 all-state honors as a midfielder three times from the Missouri State High School Soccer Coaches Association — honorable mention as a sophomore and first team after his junior and senior seasons. He was the MSHSSCA offensive player of the year in 2010 after leading the Trojans with 12 goals and 26 assists in a season that ended with a state quarterfinal loss to powerhouse Rockhurst on penalty kicks.

At St. Louis, Lee played in 74 games for the Billikens — starting 67 — and helping them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year as a senior. He quickly went from third-round pick to MLS debut, even if the first chance to see the field as a professional didn’t have a happy ending.

“Learn from your mistakes,” Lee said. “You can only go up from here. Anything is possible.”