The Philadelphia Union’s 3-2 victory in Washington on Sunday was exactly the result one would expect from a team trying to reestablish itself as a play-off contender. The Union was looking at four straight winable matches going into the weekend. Now? One down, three to go.
It wasn’t a perfect victory. The Union allowed a punchless DC United offense a pair of goals, a bit of an embarrassment since the struggling club had scored only two across six previous contests. And Philadelphia failed to put the nail in the coffin, despite opportunities. Ex-Washington newcomer Danny Cruz is to be admired for his energy and smartly set-up a goal in this match. But he failed to notice a wide-open Jack McInerney while driving straight into a defender midway through the first half. A pass could’ve given the Union a 4-1 lead and essentially iced the match.
But enough with the grumbling. The Union offense was dominant in the early going, netting three before the game was barely a quarter over and the team did what it had to do to earn an important win.
Jack McInerney continues to prove himself a rising star in the MLS (It’s getting old having to write that every week) as he scored a pair of goals, the first off a beautiful block of an errant pass by Captain Brian Carroll, a nice feed upfield by Conor Casey and an absolutely drop-dead-gorgeous move by Jack Attack. With two DC United defenders in his way, McInerney pulled the ball behind him on the run and kicked it to the left sending one of his adversaries flopping to the field like a hooked trout. With that nifty highlight reel move, McInerney essentially turned a one-on-two break into an instant one-on-none and he wasted no time burying a shot into the back of the net, sending the mesh rippling and a large contingent of travelling Union Fans (mainly Sons of Ben) into a wild party dance.
Jack Attack’s second goal was another thing of beauty, but for a different reason: it came off of a Union-style set piece. For the second time this season, Sheanon Williams threw-in a ball from near the corner and finessed it into a score. Honestly, how many others are there in the league as good at this?. The lov bounced off some heads and settled perfectly for a well-positioned McInerney who again wasted no time banging it in.
Back to Jack Attack, the 20-year-old wunderkind is now your MLS scoring leader with 6, one ahead of Toronto’s Robert Earnshaw and the L.A. Galaxy’s Mike Magee. McInerney also shows up at number 4 in shots on goal with 11.
Sandwiched between McInerney’s goals was Conor Casey’s second of the year, a soft but expertly placed kick through traffic in front of the net off a nice feed frmo Cruz. Casey also picked-up yet another yellow card, this time for delay of game, kicking a dead ball away from a DC player in the closing minutes. If you’re a Philly fan, it’s the kind of play you probably found intensely amusing. You might also be amused to know that Casey—who leads the Union in at-tee-tude, and who has about half the minutes of most other MLS regulars—is already ranked fifth in yellow cards with 3 (Yo, Flyers fans! Your season’s almost over. Flip the dial and start watching this guy!).
Sunday marked the first time this season the Union has scored 3 goals. That it came against the team with the worst record in the East is not the whole story. The offensive improvement actually began a week earlier in the second half against a much better Toronto FC in which they scored 2 (okay, one was disallowed), and had a very good Reds club clearly on the run. If the offense continues to gel in this way, it may not matter who’s on the other side of the pitch pretty soon, as a generally young squad continues to gain confidence and exhibit creativity near the opposition’s goal.
NOT ONLY THE KIDS: Youth aside, one can’t say enough about the contribution veteran addition Conor Casey has made in the past few weeks since gaining his health. Casey almost always does something positive and creative with the ball and is one of the best the Union has ever fielded when it comes to moving the orb forward in a meaningful way and positioning himself well for opportunities when he’s not making a touch.
Of course with Casey’s success comes a bit of added drama. For the first time I can remember, a healthy Sebastian Le Toux did not get into a Union game. Neither did veteran midfielder Kleberson, for that matter, after his brief but eventful debut in the closing minutes a week ago against Toronto. Manager John Hackworth continues to operate on a week-to-week basis, shuffling his pieces like Bobby Fisher on Red Bull and proving himself to be the least predictable captain of any of Philadelphia’s many sports franchises (okay, the jury’s still out on Chip Kelly). Le Toux in particular can’t have been happy about being left out. But even he can’t argue with the result, at least not without sounding insincere, and one has to think that the Flying Frenchman’s minutes are far from over this season. In fact, the way Hackworth’s been managing things lately, one could just as easily expect Casey to be out at the beginning of next week’s match up I-95 in New England. For now, Hackworth’s got a winning team on his hands (3-2-2) and with more struggling opponents ahead on the horizon, best not to argue.
WHAT THIS WIN DID FOR THE CLUB: The Union vaulted back into a tie for 4th place in the Eastern Conference, leap-frogging over the Columbus Crew who did exactly the opposite of what the Union did this weekend; they lost to a lesser opponent (Chicago, 1-0). The Union is tied with New York, but has a whopping 2-games at hand. The Union also picked-up points on everyone in front of them, most significantly top seed Sporting KC which was smothered by L.A. 2-0. The Union is now only 3 points out of first and just 2 behind both Montreal and Houston. And the schedule continues to look tasty. Next week, it’s the 1-3-2 New England Revolution on the road. A win there and the club will almost certainly find themselves even closer to the top.
I’ll preview the rumble with the Revs later in the week, Union fans.