CHESTER, Pa. – Coming into Saturday’s MLS action, the Philadelphia Union were last in the league in goals scored while Sporting Kansas City had allowed fewer goals than any other team.
Against all odds, the Union broke out of their season-long offensive slump in a 4-0 thrashing of their defensively sturdy visitors at PPL Park.
The Union, who had scored only eight times all season before Saturday, snapped a six-game winless streak with the triumph, improving to 3-8-2 on the season. Kansas City, meanwhile, dropped to 9-4-3 and saw their five-game unbeaten streak come to an unlikely end.
Jack McInerney led the way for the Union with a first-half brace, and Antoine Hoppenot (above right) and Lionard Pajoy added tallies in the second half against an SKC squad that had surrendered just 11 goals coming into the game.
HIGHLIGHTS: PHI 4, SKC 0
It marked the first time in franchise history the Union have defeated Sporting KC.
Making his second straight start after being buried in the depth chart by ex-manager Peter Nowak, McInerney responded with an opening-minute goal for new head coach John Hackworth.
After speedy fullback Raymon Gaddis, who was playing in place of the injured Sheanon Williams (right toe sprain), chased down a long ball and played the ball across the face of goal, Lionard Pajoy managed to keep the ball in play just before it went out. McInerney latched onto the loose ball and beat SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, lashing a shot into the back of the net.
It was the first time this season the Union scored in the first 30 minutes of a game.
McInerney showed off his poaching ability again just before the end of the first. That tally came after a curling Freddy Adu kick in the 43rd minute took a deflection and found defender Carlos Valdés, whose attempt on net was stopped by Nielsen. McInerney, though, was there to gobble up the rebound and put the Union up by a pair of goals heading into the halftime break.
Sporting only attempted one shot on target in the first half but nearly scored when Teal Burnbury headed a ball just over the bar in the 27th minute. Burnbury had another good look in the 62nd minute but pushed an open shot wide to the left.
Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath logged his fourth shutout of the season, thanks in large part to thwarting a few quality Graham Zusi free kicks. MacMath’s best save came in the 75th minute when he drove to bat away a Zusi set-piece blast.
The Union had a golden opportunity to extend their lead in the 69th minute when Michael Farfan lofted a through ball to rookie sub Hoppenot, who had snuck behind the defense. But after Hoppenot took a good first touch, he attempted a chip over Nielsen that went well over the net.
Hoppenot got plenty of redemption about 10 minutes later, however, when he made a nifty cutback move in the box and was taken down by SKC defender Aurélien Collin, drawing a penalty kick. Pajoy banged home the ensuing PK to put Philly up 3-0.
Then, in the 87th minute, Hoppenot made up for his wayward chip when Farfan sent him in alone on goal, giving the forward time and space to loft a shot over Nielsen, wrapping a bow around Philly’s best win of the season.
The Union and Sporting Kansas City both return to action on June 26 with home US Open Cup games against non-MLS sides, as SKC host the Dayton Dutch Lions and Philly take on the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Should they both win, the Union and Sporting would meet in the USOC semifinals at PPL Park on July 11.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Carlos Valdés||A lesson in defending from the Colombian, who snuffed out anything in his area.|
|2||Jack McInerney||Was fairly quite other than the goals, but you can't discount the effect a first-half brace had on the Union.|
|3||Michael Farfan||Opened up the D with a few cutting passes, but biggest contribution was helping quiet the SKC midfield.|