In soccer, allow an opponent to hang around for too long and eventually momentum will swing – sometimes not in your favor.
Union manager John Hackworth knows this all too well.
It’s why in the 61st minute, Hackworth made the decision to bring in the attack minded trio of Michael Farfan, Sebastien Le Toux and Jack McInerney.
It only took seven minutes for the decision to pay off.
Farfan scored on a through ball from forward Aaron Wheeler to fuel a 1-0 win over Pumas UNAM in an international club friendly Saturday at PPL Park. The goal was sparked by a nifty move from Le Toux to elude a pair of Pumas defenders who then played a square ball into forward Aaron Wheeler. Wheeler making his first appearance at PPL Park this season played a ball into space for Farfan, who notched his first goal of the season. With the win, the Union improved to 5-1 all-time in international friendlies at PPL Park and 2-0against Mexican clubs with a 1-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara in 2011.
“It was a great ball in from Wheeler, all I really had to do was pick my spot,” said Farfan on his first goal of the season. “This game was great for us, we’ve been talking about keeping the momentum going and I think we did that today.”
Before the goal it was a back and forth affair that featured a many new faces. In addition to Wheeler making his first appearance of the season coming in as a halftime substitution, supplemental draft pick Leo Fernandes played a full 90 minutes.
“We gave a lot of guys their first minutes at PPL Park this season and we wanted to give them an opportunity to show what they could do against an opponent – and a very good opponent, by the way,” said Hackworth, postgame. “We wanted to give our guys a run and keep them in the same rhythm but you could definitely sense in the first couple of minutes of the second half that Pumas had a little bit of momentum going. Bringing in those guys – the quality that we brought in, obviously – seemed to change things.”
It was a game where the cautions were aplenty on both sides as calling this match a “friendly” went out the door as early as the seventh minute. In all, referee Daniel Fitzgerald went into his pocket six times, three apiece for each team.
“I think anytime you play a rival from Mexico you are going to have some natural heated moments and certainly you saw that,” said Hackworth. “There is a lot of pride on both teams and in both countries for that matter; you know those things are going to happen, you just hope they never get out of control.”
For much of the match, Chris Konopka filled in expertly for customary goalkeeper Zac MacMath, making four saves to preserve the shutout. In fact, Pumas’ greatest chance came in the 42nd minute when star forward Martin Bravo had a breakaway chance on Konopka broken up at the last second by defender Sheanon Williams.
“Going into the game, Hack told us to basically continue our mission to do what we set out which is make this place a fortress,” said Konopka. “Minus a little bit of a turnaround in the [season opener] we have it a goal this season to make it tough for teams to beat us. I think preserving the shutout was good and gives us the right amount of confidence going into next weekend.”
Next weekend is a sizable litmus test of the Union’s recent momentum shift when the Union head to New York to play the rival Red Bulls. While Pumas was a great team with solid credentials, this match was merely a delicious appetizer given to a club that has fed off the feeling that success on the pitch has brought. Meanwhile, New York is reeling, sitting at 0-2-2 on the season following a 1-0 loss to Montreal, Saturday.
“I think the pressure is more on them than us,” Farfan said about the Red Bulls current predicament. “I think we are going up there with the same mentality which is to try and get the three points. I mean, I’m sure they are going to be fired for the game, but we are going to be fired up too, so I’m sure it’s going to be a good match.”
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org.