Philadelphia Union's "defend first" game plan pays off with a win in Colorado

Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth has said time and again how much he wants his team to play an attacking brand of soccer.

Consider Sunday’s game one of the few exceptions to that.

Because of the blizzard that forced the contest against the Colorado Rapids to be postponed from Saturday and Sunday – and the altitude that makes playing in Colorado difficult for visiting teams anyway – Hackworth instructed his club to sit back and play more of a defensive-oriented game against the Rapids.

It didn’t necessary lead to the prettiest performance, but it did help the Union survive the longer-than-expected road trip and top Colorado, 2-1, for their first win of the season.

MATCH RECAP: Union punish Rapids for first win of 2013

“Look, we’re a team that likes to push the game,” Hackworth said. “We like to press, if you watched last week. But with us being here now for two days, sitting in a hotel, dealing with the storm, dealing with the weather and the delays, it was going to be a lot to ask for us to come in and take the game to them.”

The Rapids ended up controlling possession for 64.2 percent of the game and completed more than 200 passes than the Union.

But Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead on a corner-kick header in the 34th minute by Amobi Okugo – the first goal of the fourth-year center back’s MLS career. And they scored the game-winner on a surprising 79th-minute counter-attack goal from Jack McInerney, who played a full 90 minutes at forward in part because Conor Casey (hamstring) wasn’t able to make the trip to play his old team.

From there, the Union managed to hold on to earn the franchise’s first-ever win over the Rapids.

“We usually like to have possession, but today it was better to sit back,” McInerney said. “The defense did a good job holding it down. That was the gameplan: defend first.”

FULL MATCH STATS: Rapids out-pass visiting Union by large margin

Hackworth didn’t fool himself into thinking the Union played a great game Sunday.

But after having to change their travel plans and spend one more day than they would have liked in the Colorado altitude, the manager was more than happy to return to Philly with three points.

“I was just telling our staff I’ve never seen our team in particular have as few passes and connect as few passes,” Hackworth said. “But we still got a ‘W.’ We knew coming in here, it was going to be pretty difficult and we were going to have to drop our line and defend a lot - more than we normally do. I would say going up a goal, we kind of sat back a little too much and gave them too much of the ball.

“But, to our guys' credit, they fought hard and capitalized on a great little sequence to get the winner.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.