First Shutout Keeps Union Playoff Hopes Alive
CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union posted their first clean sheet of the season on Saturday, making Sebastien Le Toux's first-half goal stand up to earn a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire.
MVP candidate Le Toux hit the eventual winner in the 36th minute after the Union applied the majority of the pressure in the opening half hour.
A well-worked break after a poor clearance from the Fire defense saw former Chicago midfielder Justin Mapp pick up a loose ball in the offensive third. Reacting quickly, Mapp slid a pass across to a cutting Le Toux, sending the Frenchman in alone in on goal. Le Toux opened his hips and goaded goalkeeper Sean Johnson into thinking he was going to the far post. Instead he fired an expertly placed shot to the near post, notching his 11th goal.
The match actually started well for the Fire, as Steven Kinney appeared to have headed in a goal in the 9th minute. However, the rookie's goal was called back for being offside.
After that, the Union took control, as Mapp imposed himself again and again. Stefani Miglioranzi slammed a long shot high and right and Le Toux and Danny Mwanga were dangerously close to getting better chances.
Things changed in the second 45 as Chicago came out a much different side as they pushed for the equalizing goal. The insertion of Mike Banner and Calen Carr added some much-needed pace on the flanks, and Freddie Ljungberg pulled the strings in the middle, maintaining possession and springing the attack with various throughballs.
Carr wound up with the best chance in the 76th minute. Kinney's cross from the right to the far post dropped to Banner, who one-timed it back into the middle. There, perhaps surprised by the pace on the redirection, wide-open Carr reacted first but put his header over the bar.
In the end, the Union held strong thanks to some staunch defending and strong goalkeeping from Brad Knighton, who earned his first career shutout in replacing regular Chris Seitz.
The loss seriously damages Chicago's playoff chances, but the three points gained by Philadelphia breathe life into the Union's hopes. The Fire are now six points out of the final playoff spot as of the end of the match, while the Union are just two more points behind.
The Union next head to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes midweek, while Chicago will play MLS champions Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium next Saturday.