CHESTER, Pa. – All the Philadelphia Union needed was one breakthrough to open the floodgates.
Plagued by a goalless drought that spanned 294 minutes, the Union erupted for three goals in the second half to top Chivas USA, 3-2, at PPL Park on Saturday night. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the Union’s second-half surge was how the surge began – from the first career MLS goal from new acquisition Veljko Paunović.
“After my goal, we just said, ‘That’s it, now we can score goals,'” said Paunović, whose 48th-minute tally tied the game at 1-1. “We just needed that confidence. It was unbelievable we couldn’t score. It seemed like we didn’t have the luck. But after the first goal, we knew we could do this.”
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The Union’s offense was indeed electric for the rest of the game, using a go-ahead goal from Carlos Ruiz and a late game-winner from Danny Mwanga to capture their first win since May 28.
Ruiz, who has four goals this season, credited the team’s organization and shape for the breakthrough, as much as the team’s increased confidence after Paunović’s tying tally.
“The difference between the first half and the second half was we were more compact in the second half,” Ruiz said. “That was the key to win the game.”
Ruiz added that the team’s offense was “a mess” for much of the first half, but the team still generated a couple of good scoring opportunities, primarily from Sebastien Le Toux, who has still yet to score during the run of play this year.
They also had a goal taken away due to an off-sides call, were thwarted on a couple of breakaways and hit a post as their bad luck continued after two straight scoreless outings vs. Vancouver and Sporting Kansas City.
And then, just like that, the bad luck turned into an exciting brand of offense.
“This team doesn’t stop fighting,” Mwanga said. “We had so many [missed] chances and we were still fighting.”
For Mwanga – who leads Philly with five goals despite often being used as a second-half sub, as he was Saturday night – the drought and ensuing breakthrough had a lot to do with getting readjusted to a new starting lineup that included Paunović, teenager Jack McInerney and Ruiz, who was back after missing three games because of the Gold Cup.
“Every time, you have new guys on offense, it’s not an easy thing to get the chemistry together,” Mwanga said. “That was one thing we were working on. Now things are clicking and we know for sure we’ll be able to do even better.”
Ruiz was just as confident the club’s offense will continue to sizzle in the coming weeks as the Union prepare for a two-game road stretch.
“We are mentally strong, we are physically strong,” Ruiz said. “And I think we have the best players in the league.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.