If there is one game the Union will remember this season, it will be the game few expected them to win.
Winless since August, and on the outside looking in at the playoffs, the Union quieted its naysayers with a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park; a place the club has never won against a team it only had one win against entering the match.
A patient Union side waited for a chance to pounce and in the 36th minute, forward Conor Casey rewarded a scintillating run and ball into the box down the right flank from Danny Cruz, as Casey thumped a loose ball from point blank rage past Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The goal snapped a 345 minute scoring streak for the Union and put Casey tied for the team lead in goals alongside fellow forward Jack McInerney with 10. Additionally, the win moved the Union from seventh spot in the East and back into playoff contention as they improved to 11-10-9 (42 points) on the season.
“They put us under a lot of pressure for good chunks of the game,” Casey said postgame. “But I thought we defended quite well, especially our back four. It was just really a great team defensive effort…it’s just a huge three points for us and something we really needed at this point in the season.”
The Union withstood a barrage of Sporting (14-10-6, 48 points) attacks and counterattacks with a commanding physical presence which chopped at both Kansas City’s ego and its soft turf at Sporting Park. It almost appeared as if the Union’s physicality was unexpected by a Kansas City team that was looking for a win to chase the pack in the race for the MLS Supporters Shield given to the team with the best regular season record. While they got their chances, the Union was excellent in keeping Sporting guns Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Jacob Peterson and C.J. Sapong in check for the full 90 minutes.
“Paying here is incredibly difficult,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “We were up against a really good opponent tonight and we were fortunate, but you can see our fight and we were pretty tough and resilient all the way through.”
The man of this match for the Union however had to be the play of Zac MacMath who dialed in to the tune of five saves and picked up his league leading 11th shutout of the season. In this match, it was less about parrying away shots that were on target but keeping lofted balls and driven crosses into his 18-yard box away from the back of his net.
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A task the 22-year-old was clearly up to on this night.
“I really didn’t see to many shots on goal, but I think the team had to sit-in as Kansas City just bombed balls into the box,” said MacMath. “The defense did really well just heading balls away and keeping everything clear…I will say that the first 30 minutes weren’t the way we planned them to go, but anytime you can get a goal in the first half, you give yourself a chance to win.”
A true statement from MacMath as his club improved to 7-0-2 this season in league play when taking the lead into half.
The physical nature of this one didn’t come without consequences however. Hackworth noted postgame that Cruz, who left the match in the 58th minute suffered a “hamstring tweak,” one that Hackworth had concerns on whether or not he’ll be good to go for next Saturday’s match against Toronto FC at PPL Park (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets). Additionally, there was some concern over the health of right back Sheanon Williams, who gave up plenty of his body to preserve this win.
It was a night in which the Union proved that there is definitely still plenty of fight in the dog.
Now it’s time ensure it can be replicated over the next four weeks.
“We have four more games left and we still have to win at least two more games,” said Casey. “We know where we are at and tonight was a big win, it’s just important that we carry the win like this brings into next week and go after three points at home next week.
What do you think of the Union’s performance tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org