Match recap: Cruz, Maidana goals fuel three points for Union against defending champs

Gutsy team performance from Union snaps record winless skid

 

Some have called it a “gutsy performance.”

What it really should be called is a desire to prove that its better than its record depicts.

Entering as the underdog against Sporting Kansas City, goals from midfielders Danny Cruz and Cristian Maidana fueled a 2-1 win at Sporting Park for the Union, snapping a nine-game unbeaten streak and presumably setting the tone to end a three-game in eight day stretch on a high note.

The reward for a solid first half of soccer from the Union was rewarded in the 48th minute when Cruz finished off a nice run down the left flank from Maidana with a perfectly timed run of his own into the box and pushing the ball past Sporting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg. 

It wasn’t quite déjà vu given the final score line, but in two trips to Sporting Park, the Union (2-5-5, 11 points) have returned with three points. Last time out, it was a Conor Casey goal in the 36th minute that proved the difference.

Wednesday night’s affair found nothing but jubilation for the Union, as Cruz and the entire team rushed to the sidelines to Union manager John Hackworth, presumably taking the monkey off his back for what has been a frustrating start to the season.

“We’re behind him and he knows we are behind him,” Cruz said of his manager postgame. “We just wanted to show to the media and to the fans that tonight was big for not just us for [Hackworth] and I think you could see the fight in everybody tonight for that big reason.”

Sporting Kansas City (5-3-2, 17 points) tried to reattach said monkey in the 81st when Sporting second half substitute Dom Dwyer hit rocket past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to level the match. But 30 seconds later, Maidana would close the affair when forward Andrew Wenger staved off defensive pressure and laid a pass off to Maidana. With one swing of his boot, Maidana hit a curling shot around both an onrushing defender and Kronberg to secure the spoils for the Union.

“I’m really happy, it was a gutsy team effort,” Maidana said postgame via translator. “This goal was for my family, and for all of the fans that always support me but mostly for the coach who believed in me from the first moment I got here.”

In a match devoid of designated player Maurice Edu and mainstay Brian Carroll, both who did not travel the team, the Union played as a collective unit with Amobi Okugo having one of his best games of the year at Brian Carroll (and sometime Edu’s) defensive midfield position. Additionally, the energy of Cruz who played all but the last seven-plus minutes of the match gave Sporting Kansas City fits. Defensively, the Union managed to keep Kansas City on the back foot and kept Sporting playmaker Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler quiet.

Truly a strong showing for the Union against two players that earlier this week were named to the provisional 30-man United States roster for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

“Credit to our guys who really fought through tonight,” Hackworth said postgame. “It wasn’t our best soccer, but we grinded it out and pick up three huge points against one of the best teams in MLS. But we got the goals when they mattered and the response after Kansas City’s goal was fantastic.”

The Union head home with three points in tow and look to nab three more from another Eastern Conference head honcho when Jay Heaps’ surging New England side visits PPL Park for a Saturday showdown (7 p.m., purchase tickets). For those unable to make it to PPL Park, the match will be presented for the first time in high definition on the Comcast Network (channel 580) for Verizon FiOS customers.

“Everyone feels pretty confident in the offense, especially after scoring two goals,” MacMath, who finished with five saves on the night siad postgame. “It’s been a while since we’ve scored two goals and to score two in the run of play is really good for our confidence. Now it’s about taking that into this match against New England [this Saturday] and finishing out this stretch on a high note.”

What did you think of the Union’s performance? Leave a comment below.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com