CHESTER, Pa. – Three days after a grueling 120-minute US Open qualifying loss, the Philadelphia Union desperately needed a boost from their bench in a key MLS game against the Red Bulls on Saturday. Substitutes Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga and Amobi Okugo delivered in a big way.
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Spelling three of the club’s injured or tired starters, Torres and Mwanga teamed up to score the only goal while Okugo controlled the flow of the game in the center of the midfield for nearly the entire contest.
The result was a hard-fought 1-0 win for Philly in a contest pitting two neighbors at the top of the Eastern Conference table.
“It was definitely hard for the guys who played in the entire Open Cup,” said Mwanga, a striker who has started two of the team’s four league games this season. “They needed some rest and we needed some guys to come in and bring energy to the team. Me and Roger came right in and tried to make an impact.”
The impact was almost instantaneous.
In the 59th minute, Mwanga came on for midfielder Justin Mapp, who had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury. Eight minutes later, the crafty Torres entered for Carlos Ruiz and proceeded to score on his first touch off a feed from Mwanga.
Asked if he’d ever scored that quickly upon entering a game, Torres answered quickly.
“No,” the 19-year-old said. “Never in my life.”
While the goal was Torres’ first in MLS, he’s always been an exciting offensive player off the bench for Philly, even if his defense sometimes lacks. He registered six assists last season, including the first one in franchise history.
“Roger came in and changed tone of game,” Union defender Danny Califf said. “He got the ball on feet and did special things. He did what he does best. He still lost ball in a couple of tight spots that we’ll have to give him a hard time about. And Danny came in and did great job as well. He used his big body and was a difference-maker at the end of the day. I think the subs were huge.”
And then there was Okugo, who was called on almost immediately when Brian Carroll tweaked his right hamstring in the sixth minute and needed to hit the showers early.
Making the assignment even more difficult for Okugo was that he just got off a plane from Guatemala after playing three games in the CONCACAF U-20 Championships.
“That’s the first time I came in so early,” Okugo admitted. “As a sub, you’re supposed to be ready whenever possible. Unfortunately, [Carroll] got hurt and I was able to step in early and we got the win. That’s the main thing.”