Chris Pontius scored his first two goals of the season as the Philadelphia Union defeated the Chicago Fire 3-1 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester.
Union starting XI: Blake; Fabinho, Elliott, Marquez, Rosenberry; Medujanin, Creavalle, Bedoya; Picault, Sapong, Pontius
Chicago starting XI: Lampson; Vincent, Meira, Kappelhof, Polster; Accam, McCarty, Conner, Alvarez; Nikolic, de Leeuw
The Chicago Fire, one of Major League Soccer’s worst teams the last couple of years, came into the game at 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Part of that is due to the acquisition last year of midfielder Dax McCarty and German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger. Credit also has be given to Chicago’s 2nd year coach, former Union player Veljko Paunovic (aka “Old Serby Bastard”), who has to be a candidate for Coach of the Year.
The Fire came out in a 4-4-2, but the Union were fortunate that Schweinsteiger was not in the lineup due to a right thigh injury.
Union head coach Jim Curtin threw a curveball tonight. Instead of the 4-2-3-1 that he has always stubbornly stuck to, he changed the formation to a 4-3-3, with Warren Creavalle anchoring the midfield.
It didn’t take long for the new formation to pay off when Chris Pontius scored in the 10th minute. Keegan Rosenberry crossed the ball from the corner of the 18-yard box and Pontius got to the ball with a diving header to knock it in. The Union controlled the first 25 minutes of the game, but then the run of the play shifted to a more even balance, with the Fire creating a few chances. The Union were happy to still have their 1-0 lead going into halftime.
The Union took back control of the match as the second half commenced, and Pontius completed his brace in the 55th minute. Chicago goalkeeper Matt Lampson stopped a Fafa Picault shot but couldn’t hold on, and Pontius took advantage of the rebound and slotted it past the flailing keeper.
The Union kept their foot on the gas pedal, which resulted in a C.J. Sapong goal in the 64th minute. Fabinho took a pass from Alejandro Bedoya and crossed the ball in front of the goal, where Sapong was able to flick it into the net.
With a 3-0 lead, the Union may have started to think blowout, but those thoughts faded quickly. The Union defenders got a little lazy and Luis Solignac scored in the 67th minute to prevent the clean sheet.
The Fire goal was a wake-up call for the Union, who spent the rest of match protecting the lead and running the clock out. The 3-1 win was the Union’s first since August 5th, when they blew out FC Dallas 3-0 at home. The Union will be happy with the three points, but with only four games left, it’s probably a little too late to think about a playoff run.
After the game, when Curtin was asked about the new formation, he claimed it was still a 4-2-3-1: “By design, we still had someone next to Warren.” OK, Jim, it looked like a 4-3-3 to me, but if you say so.
After achieving a 12-goal season in 2016, it has been frustrating for Pontius, since he hadn’t scored all of this season, until this match. Sapong, on the other hand, reached 14 goals this season, and has tied the Union’s single-season scoring record (originally set by Sebastien LeToux in 2010). He’ll have four more matches to score again and claim the record for himself.
The Union will not have much time to enjoy this win, as they are headed to Georgia for the first time to take on expansion club Atlanta United FC on Wednesday.