Snow, altitude and a feisty Colorado club in its home opener? No problem says Union
What best describes this weekend for the Union?
Fly out West to play a Colorado team at altitude, and then get stuck in town 24 hours longer than anticipated due to a rogue blizzard. Then come out against a Rapids team looking for a not just a win in their home opener but their first of the season and spoil that party by virtue of a 2-1 win.
Oh, then hop on a red eye back to Philadelphia.
Think the term adversity sums this one up?
It’s what the Union overcame following goals from defender Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney that forged the Union’s first win of 2013 and its first victory either on the road or at home since a 3-1 win at Chicago last October.
Forward Sebastien Le Toux found an awaiting Okugo back post off a corner kick in the 34th minute to put the Union up, 1-0. It was a great header redirected on net from Okugo who nabbed his first professional goal.
“It’s feels good to score my first goal,” said Okugo postgame. “I’ve been in the league for four years and to get a goal especially in an effort where the team gets a win, a hard fought win, yeah it means a lot.”
Colorado leveled the match in the 68th after forward Deshorn Brown found halftime substitute Jamie Smith just inside the box who curled a shot to the far post of a frozen Zac MacMath.
But it was McInerney’s tally in the 79th minute that really put the stamp on overcoming adversity. And it wasn’t just McInerney, but second half substitute Antoine Hoppenot who took a long ball from defender Jeff Parke, turned, and collided with Colorado’s Hendry Thomas so violently it was a wonder how Hoppenot managed to stay on his feet.
But Hoppenot shrugged off the contact and took off down the right side of the pitch and played a through ball into space for McInerney. It was then Jack Mac who coolly slotted a low rip past Rapids keeper Matt Pickens.
Ball game – with the Union headed back to Philadelphia with three valuable road points.
“We knew coming here it was going to be extremely difficult,” said Union manager John Hackworth. “We were going to have to drop our line and defend more than we normally do. I would say us going up a goal we kind of sat back too much and gave them too much of the ball, [Colorado] tried to get the equalizer and did. But credit to our guys they fought hard and capitalized on a sequence there to get the win.”
It was a game largely controlled by Colorado. First half stats alone showed that while shots were even apiece at four, the Union only held 37.2 percent of the possession. And that statistic barely rose in the second half (35.8 percent overall). However, credit goes to a stingy Union defense spearheaded by Sheanon Williams and the shutdown play by center fullback Jeff Parke and a clutch substitution (Hoppenot) that once again paid dividends down the stretch.
“We are a team that likes to push the game,” said Hackworth. “We are a team that likes to press…but with being here for two days, sitting in the hotel, watching the storm dealing with the weather and the delays it was going to be asking a lot to come in here and take this game to them.”
Now, it’s a day of rest and back to the grind Tuesday. Next Saturday, New England (5 p.m. purchase tickets) visits PPL Park fresh off a 1-0 win Saturday night over Chicago.
“We knew coming here was going to be a hard place to play regardless [of the weather],” Okugo said. “We already had in our mindset that there was a possibility that the game could get postponed…this was a good win, but it is a long season and everyone is going to have to contribute.”
After all, a concerted effort is the best way to overcome adversity.
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org