Union defense shuts down Sporting's potent attack
CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union offense will take the plaudits for Saturday night’s fantastic four-goal outburst.
But the performance from the Union defense was just as impressive, if not more.
Facing one of the league’s most potent and fluid attacks, the Philadelphia backline played 90 gritty minutes in a 4-0 shutout win over second-place Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park.
“We’ve been working hard, really hard this past week and a half,” said Union right back Raymon Gaddis, who filled in for the injured Sheanon Williams. “Basically, hard work pays off, which is a good sign. And I’m not taking anything away from Sporting Kansas City. Coach Hackworth put a lot of emphasis on particular areas, and we came out and executed in the game.”
Kansas City entered the night with 20 goals scored through 14 league games. Sporting outshot the Union 16-10, but Philadelphia’s backline only conceded three total shots on goal.
“Carlos Valdes was fantastic all night long, the leadership and composure from him and Amobi Okugo,” said Union interim head coach John Hackworth, who earned his first points since taking over for Peter Nowak two games ago. “Ray Gaddis and Gabriel Farfan were setting the tone early. I was joking with (assistant coaches) Rob (Vartughian) and Brendan (Burke) on the bench. I said that we didn’t want to give Kansas City any restart opportunities, but we’re getting some good practice right now. We were giving up way too much early. But they continued to battle like that, for 90 plus, and that’s fantastic.”
Philadelphia’s set piece and service defense was drastically improved on Saturday night. The smaller Union backline fought off 30 Sporting crosses and four corner kicks.
“All week in practice coach Hackworth emphasized our man marking, and he got on us about it,” said Gaddis. “He was strict on us this week. But we all held each other accountable at practice, and we looked back on how many goals we’ve given up on corners and set pieces and we really took that to heart this week. That was the message, one of the key messages.”
“We just had to make sure we battled on set pieces,” added left back Gabriel Farfan. “We needed to cut off their crosses, and not let that service in, just because they did have a lot of height on us. We practiced that during the week and I think we did a great job of that tonight.”
After his team lost to D.C. United last week on a late game set piece, Hackworth noted that dead ball situations would be heavily emphasized in midweek training.
“We prepared well and the players certainly went in with the mentality that we weren’t going to give that up anymore,” explained Hackworth. “That’s been an achilles heel for us all year. We took a lot of pride owning that. And Carlos Valdes led the way tonight. Carlos was the man in the air in the box. Zac MacMath did a great job coming off his line to help. And you know when Gabe Farfan is beating Kei Kamara to headers, then you know there’s a little bit of heart and soul in everything we were doing tonight.”