CHESTER, Pa. -- Philadelphia Union midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta missed the first three games of the season with a left knee injury, so it only made sense that a reporter asked how he was feeling following Friday night’s game vs. Orlando City SC.
“Right now,” Barnetta said with a wide smile, “I feel really good.”
Of course he does.
In one of the most dramatic moments of this young MLS season, the Swiss midfielder came on in the second half and scored a stunning free-kick winner to lift the Union to a 2-1 victory -- and into first place in the Eastern Conference.
“I always try these but it’s usually not going to happen,” Barnetta said. “I”m happy that it goes in tonight.”
Barnetta actually had another free kick from the same spot -- around 25 yards out, near the middle of the field -- earlier in the second half but skied his shot high. The second time around, he picked the other side and hit it perfectly into the corner and just under the crossbar, freezing Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik and sending Talen Energy Stadium into a state of jubilation.
On both attempts, the Union tried to throw in an element of surprise by putting their own secondary wall behind Orlando’s wall -- a tactic that head coach Jim Curtin said they picked up from another team and one they’ve been working on during training.
“It provided a little bit of a different look,” Curtin said. “We checked with the linesman the first time we did it when Tranquillo hit it over to make sure it wasn’t offside. The second time we executed it well. We were fortunate to get two fouls from the same look.”
Barnetta admitted the secondary wall looked like it may have been “a little confusing” for Bendik because he “had no view of the ball.” But Curtin was quick to say the strike itself was “something special,” bailing the Union out on what he added was “not our best night of soccer.”
Interestingly enough, it brought back flashbacks of another special free-kick goal the Union scored back in 2013, when Kleberson hit a stoppage-time winner late in the season vs. Toronto -- in the same stadium, on the same side of the field, and also against Bendik.
“It’s good to be on that side of the equation,” said captain Brian Carroll, one of the few holdovers from that team. “The Kleberson one gave us hope for the playoffs. But this one gives us confidence going forward early in the season. I’ll take both.”