Over the course of 90 minutes at Toyota Park on Wednesday, this was as good a performance as we have seen from the Philadelphia Union in a long time.
In a commanding 3-1 win over the Fire, the Union were both efficient and entertaining against a very good team that was made to look ordinary in front of their home fans.
Furthermore, a big win on the road showed what this young team can do when they play with confidence and poise. No doubt scoring the first goal as early as they did (7th minute) was a huge benefit, as was scoring the second goal as the Fire were pressing to get back into the game. At 2-0 up, I felt the lead was safe, but with the Fire desperate for points, you knew they would be upping the intensity. While a Dominic Oduro goal probably made Union fans wonder about deja vu, an Antoine Hoppenot goal off of a feed from Michael Farfan sealed the deal for the Union in the 87th minute.
Jack McInerney was solid up top scoring the first goal and assisted on the second. His work rate as a starter this time was second to none. The 20-year-old has scored in back-to-back games, tied with Gabriel Gomez for the team lead with six on the season. All of his goals have come since the managerial change from Peter Nowak to John Hackworth.
For the second straight game, substitutions paid off for the Union as both Gomez and Hoppenot tallied after coming on.
Brian Carroll, with plenty of help from his teammates was immense all night. I can't begin to calculate the number of balls he cleared out of his own penalty area where his positioning was superb. He knows where the potential danger is, which is why he is in such a good defending position as often as he is.
Defending is not just one-on-one battles, but it's also team defending, sometimes man to man, other times zonal. It was the defensive team concept that negated the Fire's brightest players like Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald, and Patrick Nyarko. In a previous meeting at PPL Park, Rolfe scored two goals and MacDonald was immense up top. Those two players were not allowed to play their game on Wednesday.
The only negative things coming out of the win against the Fire were the injury to midfielder Danny Cruz who had to leave the game in first half stoppage time, and the yellow card given to Sheanon Williams late in the game which puts him out of Saturday's game against New England because of yellow card accumulation.
The Union have now won two of their last three games, scoring eight goals in the process. Overall, since the formation change from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 they look more organized on both sides of the ball. While you would like to have seen them generate more scoring chances for the amount of good ball possession that they had, how can you argue with three goals on three shots on goal?
Next up for the Union is a Saturday home game against the New England Revolution. Philadelphia has yet to lose to the Revs in six prior meetings, winning three and drawing three.
While the Revs under head coach Jay Heaps have been idle since last Saturday's loss at Houston, the Union will be looking at their third game in eight nights. That, plus the Williams suspension, and Cruz injury will lead to at least some lineup changes for the weekend. No word on the playing status of injured Freddy Adu or Gabe Farfan who missed the Fire game. Adu has missed the last two games after scoring twice in the 3-1 win against Houston.
While these games don't mean much in the standings, the Union want to finish strong for a variety of reasons. If they can close out the campaign with the kind of form we have seen over the past three games, it will give them a bit more hope for the future. With no playoffs this year, the offseason starts sooner.
Manager John Hackworth will have a very good idea on who should return next year and in what positions, as well as knowing what the team needs to look for to strengthen themselves for 2013.
See you Saturday.