Last night, the Union embodied everything that they could be in 90 minutes. They played the best they could possibly play with the personnel they have. They executed brilliant counter attacks and thwarted a potent Sporting KC attack that has names like Bunbury, Kamara, and Sapong. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have been there in person.
Right before the game started, I turned to my brother and pointed out rookie sensation Ray Gaddis playing right back and said to watch out for him to make big runs up the flank. I’m rarely prophetic, but last night I got lucky and one minute after the game started, Amobi Okugo delivered an inch perfect pass to Gaddis who was flying up the wing and outdistanced two SKC defenders. Gaddis then passed it across the face of goal a little ahead of Lionard Pajoy, who deftly flicked it back behind him before it went out of bounds. It rolled right to Jack McInerney, who smashed a point blank shot that the goalie had no hopes of saving. PPL Park erupted, the Sons of Ben unfurled their numerous banners and lit their smoke bombs, and I was stunned. Did we really just take a 1-0 in the first minute against on of the best teams? The counter attack was executed so quickly and brilliantly, it left me out of breath and in a state of disbelief.
It turned out to get even better for the Union. Throughout the rest of the half, the Union defended well while trying to get on the break, which they did with some success. Then, right before halftime, Freddy Adu whipped in a free kick and the ball bounced around the box for a few tantalizing seconds. Out of nowhere, McInerney popped up in the right place and managed to poke it in the back of the net. It was 2-0 Union, and my elation only increased. I’ve been riding McInerney hard the last few months because of his string of lackluster and poor performances. I thought he peaked as an 18 year old, which in hindsight may have been a little foolish (alright, it was foolish). Maybe Nowak never really gave him the chance. For whatever reason, new gaffer John Hackworth gave him the start and he repaid him with a first half brace against one of the league’s best teams.
After halftime, the game didn’t change. The Union absorbed the pressure from KC well, and relieved it through counter attacks. Zach MacMath had a brilliant save from a curling KC free kick, but that was really the only dangerous chance that KC produced. Then, Hackworth continued to press the right buttons with substitutions in the second half. He put on Keon Daniel for McInerney, which helped the defense tremendously in holding the lead. Just before that, Hackworth took out Adu and put in a relative unknown in Antoine Hoppenot. The young forward hasn’t seen much action this year, and now every Union fan is wondering why.
Once he came on, Hoppenot was dynamic and looked absolutely fantastic. The recipient of some great through balls, Hoppenot ran roughshod over the maligned KC defense. In the 80th minute, he crossed up a KC defender with some nifty footwork in the box and the defender ended up having to pull him down by his shirt in order to stop him from shooting. That gave way to a penalty kick, and Lionard Pajoy coolly sent the goalie the wrong way to the delight of the over 18,000 fans at PPL.
In the 87th, Hoppenot received a great ball over the top of the KC back line and had a breakaway. The same thing happened a few minutes earlier, but Hoppenot tried a chip over the keeper that saw the ball go over the top of the net. The second time he did not make the same mistake. He had the nerve to try the chip again, and this time executed it perfectly to leave the goalie helpless. The result was a resounding 4-0 lead, and would remain that way until the final whistle sounded. I was in a state of euphoria, with the Sons of Ben’s chants ringing through my ears and my eyes soaking in the sight of the scoreboard.
For a team that could not score this season, this has to be one of the biggest shocks of the season so far. The Union dismantled a tough Kansas City side loaded with talent, but give the Union credit. This was a long time in coming, and you have to consider that this may be a season defining moment for a team that has a chance to turn it around. Hackworth pressed all the right buttons with his starters and subs, and if it continues, the Union should continue to produce results. They showed how well they can play if they execute, and last night they did just that. Will they score four goals a game from here on out? No, but their offense is looking up. With their defense being as good as it is, and the offense coming to life, they could put together a string of results that could see them back in playoff contention.
(image courtesy of Greg Carroccio/Philadelphia Union)