Peter Nowak has been waiting for a victory like this.
Saturday night in Seattle, Nowak's Philadelphia Union earned their first-ever win on the West Coast, beating the Sounders 2-0 at CenturyLink Field. And, in the process, they inched closer to their first-ever playoff berth.
With Saturday’s result, the Union (11-7-14) vaulted into first place in the Eastern Conference, two points clear of Sporting Kansas City, with just two games to play in the regular season. Philly can now clinch a playoff berth next Saturday when they face Toronto FC in the season’s final home game.
“There’s no better place to win [than Seattle],” Nowak said following the game. “This is a tough place to play, and a win like this tastes good after two years of trying to win a game on the West Coast. It was a really good game. It was a good-paced game, and I think tactically we were very good.”
Before Saturday, the Union were winless in nine West Coast contests, starting with a 2-0 loss to Seattle in their first game in franchise history last March. When asked what he’s seen change in Seattle since the last time the Union played there a year-and-a-half ago, Nowak was direct in his response.
“The result changed,” the Union manager said. “That’s more important than anything.”
Nowak did notice a more specific change in the second half of Saturday’s game, with his club pushing harder into the offensive third to break the 0-0 halftime deadlock. Eventually, they were rewarded with goals from Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll – which, combined with another strong defensive outing, was more than enough to escape the West Coast with three points.
“I think in the first half we were moving the ball pretty good but we couldn’t find the answer how to break them down in the final third,” Nowak said. “We made a little adjustment at halftime and I think the players figured out what to do. We tried to push the game from the outside and we countered on the second [goal].”
While Philly’s second goal did come on a counter-attack – with ex-Sounder Sébastien Le Toux setting up Carroll for his first goal in league play this season – the first was created by a terrific individual effort by Gabriel Farfan. The left back dribbled around Seattle’s James Riley along the end line, barely keeping the ball in play before finding Adu open in front of the net. Adu roofed his shot over Sounders 'keeper Kasey Keller to put Philly on the way to one of their best wins in franchise history – all while showing Seattle fans how much has changed since the Union’s last trip to the Emerald City.
Said Nowak, “We’re a completely different team than 18 months ago.”
In this case, a team that looks very much like they’re on their way to the playoffs.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.