On a cool, overcast early May evening the winless Philadelphia Union (0-4-4, 4 Pts. Last Place Eastern Conference) hosted the (depending on who you ask) “rival” New York Red Bulls (5-4-1, 16 Pts, 2nd Place Eastern Conference), in yet another in a never ending series of “must wins” for the U.
They did just that in Clean Sheet fashion as four Andre Blake saves, and a Natural Hat Trick by C. J. Sapong gave the Union a much needed 3-Nil shut out.
Starting Lineups with both teams in a 4-2-3-1:
Union Starting XI:
18 GK Andre Blake; 28 D Raymon Gaddis; 3 D Jack Elliott; 5 D Oguchi Onyewu; 33 D Fabinho; 11 MF Alejandro Bedoya (C); 6 MF Haris Medunjanin; 13 MF Chris Pontius; 10 MF Roland Alberg; 22 MF Fafa Picault; 17 F C. J. Sapong
Red Bulls Starting XI:
31 GK Luis Robles; 92 D Keymar Lawrence; 33 D Aaron Long; 55 D Damien Perrinelle; 62 D Michael Amir Murillo; 4 MF Tyler Adams; 8 MF Felipe; 19 F Alex Muyl; 16 MF Sacha Kljestan (C); 77 MF Daniel Royer; 99 F Bradley Wright-Phillips
As we have seen often this season the Union were the aggressors in the 1st 10′. In the 13′ Blake made a double save as he tipped a rebound up in front of him, but corraled the next weak shot.
Except for three yellow cards (see below) that really did not figure into any dangerous chances, the half featured a few good saves by each goalie as neither team was able to dent the score sheet.
The U did lead possession 57.8% to 42.2% but the shots were even at 5, with 2-1 on target in favor of the Boys In Blue.
The second half started with the Red Bulls pushing their heretofore successful High Press despite playing their 3rd game in a week, but Blake’s goaltending and some good defense weathered that storm.
Finally in 72′ C. J. Sapong dribbled by a few defenders and placed a hard kick, deflected by Long, past Robles. This came moments after Robles saved a header by him. That and the play of Blake seemed to lift the team’s – and the 16,297 rabid fans’ – spirits. He scored again on a header from Pontius in 82′. This time it came soon after one of Blake’s saves in the 80′ on a Wright-Phillips shot.
The Icing on the first W cake came as Sapong got a chance for the Natural Hat Trick on a PK after a hand ball by Perrinelle in the 85′, which he buried. It was the third hat-trick in Union history – the other two being Sebastian Letoux in 2010 and Alberg last season – and Sapong’s first. His seven goals tied the MLS lead with Erick Torres of the Houston Dynamo
Cards and Subs:
NYRB: Long 9′
Union: Picault 25′, Medunjanin 26′, Jack Elliot 66′, Blake 88′
NYRB: Frederik Gulbrandsen for Muyl 72′, Mike Grella on for Royer 76′, Derrick Etienne for Felipe 81′
Union: Derrick Jones for Alberg, Keegan Rosenberry for Gaddis 62′ Fabian Herbers for Fafa 78′
It had been 252 days since the Union last won a game and to do so with their second clean sheet in a row against two very good teams, could possibly be the wake up call this team needed. Head Coach Jim Curtin stressed that point after the game:
” Two clean sheets in a row now. Something to build on. We are really happy with the way the team stuck together, and the work they put in.” He added later how important the next stretch will be. “It has been a long time since we got the W… A lot of good things to build on…Not too high not too low.” We have a lot of smiling faces in there… but We have to keep pushing. We have a schedule now where we have a Saturday and a Wednesday, where we can pick up or drop points quickly.”
As Curtin noted the U go on the road to DC United (3-4-2, 11 Pts, 8th Place Eastern Conference) next Saturday, and then two home games the next Wednesday against Houston (4-3-1. 13 Pts, 4th Place Western Conference), and then Saturday against the Colorado Rapids (1-6-1, 4 Pts, Last Place Western Conference). So you have another important conference game, followed by two games against Western Conference teams which even at home and despite the records, the Union have historically had problems with. This could easily be the most decisive stretch of games of the season.
For now we can all take a deep breath and enjoy the W for a week at least.