Riding goals by Chris Pontius, Vincent Nogueira, and Fabian Herbers, the Union took all three points on a sunny, hot day in Chester by the score of 3-2 over the Columbus Crew.
Union first XI: Jones; Fabinho, Marquez, Tribbett, Rosenberry; Carroll, Nogueira; Pontius, Barnetta, Le Toux; Sapong
Columbus first XI: Clark; Francis, Barson, Parkhurst, Jimenez; Trapp, Saeid; Meram, Higuain, Finlay; Kamara
The Union started well, pressing Clark into a couple distribution errors and turning Columbus over to go on counters, yet it was the Crew who found the first goal. In the 14th minute, Ola Kamara vollied home an Ethan Finlay cross to make the score 1-0 visitors. The Union wouldn’t wait long to respond as Chris Pontius fired a shot home from the top of the box past Clark just seven minutes later to equalize. In the 27th, Barnetta destroyed a Columbus defender at the top of the box before sliding the ball over to Le Toux, whose hard shot to upper corner Clark could only touch over the bar. Defender Ken Tribbett saw yellow in the 34th minute for a professional foul which snuffed out a growing Crew attack near the top of the box, and the ensuing free kick made its way to the goal line off of a deflection and would have gone over but for Tribbett himself, who cleared it off before it could cross the line totally (you hear that, Orlando? TOTALLY) to keep the match 1-1. Three minutes later, Ola Kamara beat the offside trap to go in 1v1 on Jones but put his flick just wide of the right post. Other than an Ethan Finlay yellow in the 43rd, nothing else happened as the half ended knotted at 1.
The second half started with no subs for either side. Four minutes in, Richie Marquez had a near-post header go just over the bar off of a corner. It became obvious shortly after that Columbus would be happy with a point from the affair when Steve Clark began milking each goal kick for as much time as he could. It didn’t work. In the 57th minute, Vincent Nogueira scored on a deflected laser from the top of the box off of a pass from Chris Pontius, who skinned his defender and made his way into the box before dishing.
The Crew searched for an equalizer. After Sebastien Le Toux saw yellow at midfield for a foul, a cross into the Union box saw Jones fail to fully claim it and it smacked off of the post but stayed out. CJ Sapong, who was taking his customary beating and was slow to get up several times, would come off along with Pontius in the 67th minute for Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers. The Union gave up another corner and Nogueira saw yellow this time. As Gregg Berhalter searched for an answer, he went to his thin bench, subbing on Cristian Martinez for Meram at 70′.
And then we saw it… Conor Casey getting loose! Conor Casey reporting to the fourth official! The following happened:
74′ Conor Casey subbed on for Higuain. Union fans give him a loud ovation.
78′ Conor Casey sent off with a straight red. Union fans give him a loud ovation.
That’s the Casey we know and love!
Meanwhile, the Union were generating chances for Fabian Herbers, but the final touch was lacking. A Le Toux cross that Herbers needed to put a simple touch on went begging. In the 81st, Ilsinho destroyed three Crew defenders and slid the ball over to Herbers, who couldn’t get a shot off. Finally, in the 84th minute, Herbers, Barnetta, and Ilsinho combined to send Herbers in alone on Clark, and the young German curled one to the far corner on an effort Clark had no chance on, giving him his first MLS goal.
Now down 3-1 and down a man, the Crew had the Union exactly where they wanted them. With five minutes of stoppage time added, the Crew worked a ball into the box which Martinez put past Jones three minutes into stoppage to cause some nervous moments in Chester and make it 3-2, but the Crew were unable to find another. The Union took 3 points and the Eastern Conference lead into the Copa America Centenario break.
Notes: Before the match, Earnie Stewart spoke with the media and said he apologized to the players for the condition of the field. A lacrosse tournament was held at the stadium and tore up some of the pitch, which had to be re-sodded. Stewart went on to say there was no middle ground for balancing Union games with other events at Talen Energy Stadium and he would always be against hosting other events at the field, although it’s unclear how much of a say he actually has in these matters. Perhaps more important is the person in the GM/Sporting Director role taking responsibility for something that went wrong with the club, whereas Nick Sakiewicz was never wrong, according to Nick. It’s rather refreshing.
Player and manager reflections on the match:
Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew manager: “I would characterize tonight as a lost opportunity. What I mean when I say that is we had the chance to come to the conference leaders and really show what we’re about, and I don’t think we did that. It’s disappointing because I think highly of that group, the guys in our locker room, and I think we had more in us than we showed tonight.”
On Casey being sent off: “I spoke to (the ref). What we said was private, but I’ll take another look at it and see what it was and go from there.”
On if there’s positives to be taken from this game: “I think so, I think Philadelphia is a good example of the hunger you need to be at the top. Let’s look at them: they’re in Orlando on Wednesday, Colorado on Saturday, then us here today. They came out and had more energy, won 66 percent of the duels in the first half. This is a man’s game, this is a physical game; if we expect to win games while losing 66 percent of the duels, it’s not happening, not in this league.
Rookie Union striker Fabian Herbers on his first career goal: “I got a great pass from Ilsinho. It was a counterattack and he put me through very well. I cut it back with my left so the defender was gone. I could have played Ilsinho back or ‘Quillo (Tranquillo Barnetta) as well but I’m a striker and I just go for it and lucky me, it went far corner.”
On where his goal ranks with him and if his front flip celebration is for special occasions: “I’ve done it in the past, back in Germany. I haven’t done it in college actually. It was a special goal and yeah, let’s bring (the flip) back.”
On finally converting on a chance: “I’m very happy, I appreciate the trust of the coaches, they always put me in late in the game. They trust me that they have hope that I can make an impact on the game. I had several chances in other games and I just got unlucky in those games but finally put one into the net and I’m really really happy about that.”
On whether he was anxious to get the first one: “I wouldn’t say anxiety. You just want to score, you’re a striker… I’ve had several chances, it’s not frustrating, but of course you want to score, you always want to hit the net as a striker. I finally hit one in and I’m just really, really happy about it. I hope to score a few more.”
Union manager Jim Curtin: “First off, thank you to the fans for driving us on again. This place has become a special place to play this year. Columbus is a very good team, well coached, gave us some problems I thought in the first half. Over the course of 90 minutes though, you did see that they only had sixteen healthy bodies so they were a little bit thin. We thought if we continued to play at a high tempo, we could eventually wear them down, the little bit of a patchwork back line they had. So we thought if we played our game and pushed the tempo on a hot night in our building, we would get chances. Credit to the guys, they fought hard over these last three games. We’ve proven now that we can go (play games on) Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday without blinking and worrying and acting like that’s the biggest deal in the world, so travel, temperature, referees, all the different things that go into it, I think our guys deserve some time off going into the break. I’m proud of the group, proud of the performance, proud of everyone at the club. It needs to be said, everyone behind the scenes, all the technical staff, the medical staff, the performance department has really put a lot into this thing.
“We’re no where near where we need to be. We still can improve each and every day, but for right now, setting the goal to go into the Copa America break in first place in the East is what we set at the beginning of the year, we’re there now. We still gave up too many goals, I’m still angry at the guys for giving up a goal up a man, for some reason we take our foot off the gas a little bit and get punished. You can still learn from even the wins and the success. We’ll look at the tape, we’ll evaluate the rest of the performances, and we’ll get back to work pretty quickly after taking a day or two to regroup. The guys have earned that, I’m happy with them, and this is the start of something special.”
On his pre-season goal of going undefeated at home: “Anywhere in the world you have to win your home games, in any sport. It’s critical. We haven’t done that in the past, and I think the mentality and the mindset has shifted here and there is a confidence when we play here. Is the soccer perfect yet? Far from it. I think we can improve and be a little smarter with how we close games out. But at the same time, you can see a group of guys that pushes, is not scared, gives every ounce of energy and represents the city of Philadelphia and is playing pretty good soccer right now. I’m a big believer that the table tells the truth. At the end of the day, we’re where we are because we put a lot into it. It’s still tight in the East. It’s going to be tight all year, but I am happy with my team.”
On Ken Tribbett’s goal line clearance: “Ken made a great play to pull it off the goal line. He has a high soccer IQ, a knack for being in the right place at the right time… he bailed us out in that moment.”
On rookies possibly developing faster than he thought they would: “No, they’re good, they’re good players. Earnie was aggressive in the draft and we got three guys we wanted and two guys in the later rounds who we wanted as well and are actually performing day in and day out in training. Keegan, Josh, and Fabian are the ones on the field right now. Fabian scores a heck of a goal to ice it tonight. They’re the three that are getting the minutes. We’ve played rookies the most in the league by a healthy amount. We trust young players. We don’t care if they’re young or old, we’ll put them out there. We finished a lot of games this year with three rookies on the field and they’ve done an exceptional job for us. We’re a team, I think in the true sense of the word, we are a team. We’ve said it before, we came out today on the field, everybody is asking now, ‘who is the leader of this group? When the game gets tough, who steps up?’ I think I have eleven guys who lead and eleven guys who step up.”
On Fabian Herbers’ season thus far: “Earnie, Chris and I talk about it on a daily basis. We see what happened tonight in training every day. He’s a kid that around the goal is incredible sharp. He has a knack for running and losing his center back, being in the right spot at the right time, composure. He got slipped in there on his weaker foot but he knows the center back’s only play there is to slide, so he cuts it back to his strong foot and puts it in a pretty good spot to say the least. He has things I can’t teach. I don’t take credit for any of that, that’s for sure. He is special around the goal. He has a lot to learn. He worked hard defensively tonight, I’m proud of that. That was my message when he went in. I said “if you score a goal, great, but I’m more concerned now with the defensive work and the defensive effort. He is not phased by going into a game whether we’re winning, whether we’re losing, or whether we’re tied. He’s the same every time, he’s not scared, that’s for sure.”
On Ilsinho and his role on the team: “I think fitness is the clear one. Tonight was 20 minutes and you could see he was fatigued a bit by the end. He’s incredible 1v1, incredible. He’s a guy we got going really well going back to the Chicago game where he played 90 minutes and was taking guys on and looked like what we saw in pre-season. He was able to sustain it. His fitness was very good. He had a little setback with not a major injury but little minor ones that have kept him out. He’s a guy that listen, when he’s fully healthy and fully fit, he’s as dangerous as there is in our league. I mean that, I’ve seen that in training. We’re not just going to throw him in there for 90 and maybe have a setback and another injury. Other guys are playing well also. Again, we’re two deep in each spot and when he’s called upon, he steps up. He made some good plays tonight and some plays you question, some blind flicks, and it’s just a matter of getting some sharpness back and you only get that back by playing games.”
On Matt Jones’ first start: “I thought he was good, thought he was solid. On the first goal we made two mistakes, Fabi overaggressive, Ken slips, again, we give up goals as a team, but on that one, I don’t think there’s anything he could really do. The second one I didn’t get a clear look at but marking in the middle wasn’t good, we lost a guy out wide, unacceptable up a man to take our foot off the gas, so I don’t think anything Matt could do there. Did okay on some crosses I thought, it’s not an easy situation. He’s had a bit of a rollercoaster having his firstborn, so I’m very happy for him to get a win. He really helped the team. We’ve had the “next man up” mentality. Guys have stepped up and done a really good job; by the true sense of the word, we are a team. We aren’t about individuals, we don’t have a superstar, our team is the star.”
On whether he learned anything new about the group after the last stretch of schedule: “I learned that we’re in good shape. I think we knew that but this confirmed it, to go to Orlando in the heat, to go to play at altitude, deal with all those scenarios, to come home on a pretty warm night tonight, we have good fitness. Our guys are pushing and our sports performance department has a done a really good job of maintenance, to not have a lot of little injuries, to really minimize that. You can see guys get stronger as the game goes on. There’s still a whole other level we can push to. We’ve gotten here by hard work and we’re going to continue to work hard. We have a good group of guys that have a belief now. There’s a lot of positives going on at the club right now. We want to stay at the top of the East for the rest of the year. It’s not easy to do. It’s easy for me to sit up here with a microphone and talk about it but the only way we do it is through the training each and every day. The guys have brought that. They’ll need to bring it for the next four months, so it’s a long way to go.”
On his affection for former Union striker Conor Casey as a player: “I love Conor.”
On whether he felt bad seeing Conor go out on a straight red: “(with a smile) No. Not one part. Not one part. I love Conor Casey, he’s a friend, he’s a great player. I thought our fans, I guess you would call that a tribute, I don’t know what you call that (fans cheered for the ex-Union man when he came on and four minutes later when he got sent off). It was pretty cool to see a guy who gave a lot to the club go off probably not the way he wanted to go off (laughs) with a red card but, you know, Philly fans sometimes catch a bad rap nationally but we’re very knowledgeable people, we love people that give everything on the field. Those are the guys, the Iversons, for the Union, Conor Casey, a guy who left everything out there, played physical, and had an in-your-face mentality. Not surprised they cheered him off, but at the same time I was thinking ‘thank God there’s not two forwards up there for the last fifteen minutes’ (laughs) because Conor’s a guy who’s very dangerous so no sympathy you have from me, but again, a guy I think very highly of and is responsible in many ways for me getting a head coaching job.”