Saturday, July 14, 2012

Union edge Montreal on late Valdes goal


By John McMullen
jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com

CHESTER (The Phanatic Magazine) - Just days after a surprising run in the U.S. Open Cup ended, the revitalized Philadelphia Union got back to their solid league play under interim team manager John Hackworth, dismissing the expansion Montreal Impact, 2-1, in front of 18,544 at PPL Park.

Carlos Valdes' goal in stoppage time proved to be the difference as Philadelphia rebounded from a loss to Sporting Kansas City in the Open Cup semifinals Wednesday.

The Union, however, won their third straight MLS match by edging the Impact. Under Hackworth, Philadelphia (6-9-2) has won four of its six matches after managing just two wins through 11 contest under former manager Peter Nowak.

Antoine Hoppenot, who came in during the 60th minute for Josue Martinez, continued his coming out party under Hackworth muscling the ball along the end line and into the box before Lionard Pajoy, a sub at intermission for Freddy Adu, banged it home for his fifth goal of the year to give the Union a 1-0 advantage in the 82nd minute.

The lead was short-lived when the Impact evened things off a comer kick in the 89th minute. Three Union players has a chance to deflect it out of the box but failed to do so. The ball ricocheted off Philadelphia's Keon Daniel and the own goal robbed Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath of his sixth shutout of the year.

Of more importance, however, was the fact that the Union didn't miss out on two extra points when, minutes later, Sheanon Williams' brilliant throw-in found Union captain Valdes in the box. The Columbian defender failed on a header but wheeled around and put in past Impact goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from a tough angle.

Montreal (6-12-3) is now only one point ahead of Philadelphia in the Eastern Table.

History will be Nowak's ultimate judge but the ousting of the Polish mentor has certainly paid dividends in the short term for the Union. Philadelphia has played with far more energy under Hackworth, who has turned what was a 2-7-2 team under Nowak into a competitive bunch in short order.

The Union are still a distant ninth in the East table and far from any postseason consideration but you can finally sense a little light at the end of the tunnel.

And most of it is coming from players who couldn't sniff the pitch under Nowak like Jack McInerney, who has three goals and two assists since Hackworth took over and nearly struck again tonight.

Meanwhile, Hoppenot, a rookie from Princeton that comes in late with loads of energy, and UCLA product Amobi Okugo, who has slipped back from the midfield to sure up Philadelphia's back end, have been key contributors in the Union's current run.

Why this group was glued to the bench under Nowak is something only the former coach could answer but it's also the major reason he's not around to give it.

The Union return to action for a midweek friendly against Aston Villa at PPL Park on Wednesday and will resume MLS play at New York on Saturday.
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