CHESTER, Pa. — It’s finally over.
After 15 straight games without a win — 16 if you include the playoffs — the Philadelphia Union can breathe a huge sigh of relief following a desperately needed 3-0 triumph over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night.
“You can’t put it into words,” said striker C.J. Sapong, who fueled the victory with the first hat trick of his MLS career. “It’s been a long, hard-working road for us to get this win. There’s something I felt from my teammates on the field tonight that is really a testament to how much we’ve gone through and how we came together. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Throughout the winless streak — which dated back to last August and was quickly approaching the all-time MLS record of 18 — Sapong and the rest of the Union players maintained that the team was sticking together and far better than their record indicated.
On Saturday, it seemed they were rewarded for that faith by snapping a slump on a night when everyone played well.
From Sapong’s hat trick to a makeshift backline earning its second consecutive shutout to captain Alejandro Bedoya effectively shadowing Sacha Kljestan to goalkeeper Andre Blake making a huge save on Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Union were feeling really good about themselves after the game.
“I think I can speak for everybody here — it’s a big weight off our shoulders,” Bedoya said. “And smiles everywhere, which is good. You guys have heard me say that I’ve been adamant about keeping shutouts, being better defensively and giving us a chance to win games toward the end. Credit to the whole team.”
For the Union to get a clean sheet was certainly a promising development considering rookie Jack Elliott and veteran Oguchi Onyewu were partnered together for the first time at center back with Richie Marquez out sick.
But the backline stayed organized, even when Ray Gaddis came out injured in place of the previously benched Keegan Rosenberry in the second half, and Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with a monster 80th-minute save on Wright-Phillips to prevent the Red Bulls from tying the game after the Union went ahead 1-0.
“It was a pretty emotional moment for me,” Blake said. “All I have to say about that save is it was a divine intervention from God. That wasn’t me. That was God, for sure.”
Embattled Union coach Jim Curtin gave his goalie more credit than that, calling the save a pivotal moment that gave the team “belief” and something that was needed to avoid the kind of collapses that had been plaguing them throughout the season.
And now, with their first win of 2017 out of the way, Curtin is hopeful a turnaround is coming.
“I want to thank our fans, the one that stuck with us through this tough time,” Curtin said. “It’s difficult. Now you can see when a team has confidence, it’s pretty fun to watch. The building was loud. It was electric. And for the fans that have bailed on us, we understand and we will work hard to win you back."