Perfect timing: Strong performance against the Crew allows breathing room in MLS' East
The offense played well. The defense played well. The Union picked up a shutout and grabbed three points in the process.
Philadelphia came to play on Wednesday night, blanking the Columbus Crew 3-0 at PPL Park and moving into a three-way tie for third place in the Eastern Conference.
A team that struggled in recent weeks walked off the pitch with a comprehensive win and numerous points of positivity.
"I think everything was important," said defender Sheanon Williams, who scored Philadelphia's second goal of the night. "I know we've been going through a little bit of a tough stretch, not playing the kind of soccer that we know we can play. I think tonight was a good example of, when we put it all together, that's what we can do."
Philadelphia moved five points clear of the Crew in the Eastern Conference standings. The team also moved three points above New England, who travel to last place D.C. United on Saturday.
"I think the points is the most important," said center back Jeff Parke. "To get three points and to separate ourselves from teams close to us, that's huge. That was a six point game there. It's a great step in the right direction."
"I wouldn't say that anything was more important than the other," added midfielder Keon Daniel. "It's just one game at a time and doing what the coaches want - working hard, doing it on both sides of the ball. I think whenever we do it on both sides of the ball we get results and obviously we go up the table."
It was a much improved performance from Philadelphia's defense. Prior to tonight's game, the Union backline had conceded 11 goals in the previous four games.
"Just the compactness between all eleven players, communicating and talking," explained goalkeeper Zac MacMath, when asked about the defensive turnaround. "We knew that (Federico) Higuain and (Dominic) Oduro were the main threats and we kept tabs on them for 90 minutes. When you do that, you give yourself the best chance of keeping the shutout. Once you keep the shutout, goals will come, and they came plenty tonight."
But wait, there are more positives:
Philadelphia now has the leading goal scorer and leading assist provider in Major League Soccer.
Jack McInerney has 10 goals and Sebastien Le Toux jumped Graham Zusi and Kelyn Rowe to claim the league lead with six total assists in 2013.
The Union improved to 3-2-2 (11 points) at home, breaking the .500 average at PPL Park for the first time this season.
The team will play D.C. United in Open Cup play next week, but league play doesn't resume until June 23 – a home game against rival New York.
"It's definitely a couple of weeks, but it's something, that if we only came away with one point tonight, it's not good enough," Parke said. "We're at home, we want to get three points every time we play here. What better than to play against a team that's close to us in points and to separate ourselves a little bit of cushion and some confidence coming into some big games."
"A lot of positives to take, especially going into this break," Williams told reporters. "We didn't want to have a bad taste in our mouths of having a loss and having to wait a couple of weeks to play again."
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org