In the third and final match of a three-game, eight-day odyssey, the Union will return to Chester with a point in hand following a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
It was a penalty kick awarded at the edge of stoppage time to the Union that would secure a point after a Sebastien Le Toux shot inside the box was broken up by the hand of Fire defender Gonzalo Segares. The referee pointed to the spot, and it was the Union’s French forward that would make sure to deliver, scoring the equalizer and increasing his mark on penalty kicks to a perfect 12-for-12 in his career.
“To be able to score for the team [in a situation like that] it feels good, you know? Le Toux told reporters postgame. “In this case I was just trying to hit a ball on target and it ended up hitting [Segares’] elbow. First instinct is to raise your hand to alert the referee; fortunately he saw it and I got my chance.”
This was a game that became a war of attrition as end-to-end play saw both teams head into the locker room at the half scoreless. Statistically, the needle pointed to Chicago who held edge in possession and chances created in the first half. Thankfully, two halves are played in soccer and in the second, despite the Fire getting on the scoreboard first following a set piece goal from captain Jeff Larentowicz in the 60th minute, the Union continued to show fight using the width of Toyota Park to get balls in the box.
That resilience paid off with Le Toux goal as the Union improve to (5-8-8, 23 points) in MLS play and now sit in a three way tie on points for the fifth and final playoff spot in MLS’ Eastern Conference.
“I was happy with the team defensively, but I thought we created enough chances to get a result out of this one,” said Union interim manager Jim Curtin. This match marked a return to Chicago for the first time as manager for Curtin, who played seven seasons for the Fire and was an MLS All-Star in that time. In a return to the field that defined his career as a player, Courtesy of Le Toux' equalizer, Curtin was also able to secure a positive night as a coach.
“Anytime you get a goal in the 89th minute you are happy with that,” Curtin continued. “You take the point and you move on. Again, I will say that I am disappointed that we gave up a goal, because in the run of play I didn’t think we gave up a whole lot of chances. So that’s something we’ll need to correct.”
Another first was the debut of Union forward Brian Brown, who entered the match in the 69th minute for midfielder Amobi Okugo. Brown’s speed did create chances in the box, and the Jamaican forward nearly found fellow forward Conor Casey on a pass across Chicago’s 18-yard-box, but it was broken up by the stingy defense of the Fire.
The Union now get a weeklong break from MLS action before a trip to take on defending MLS champions in Sporting Kansas City (8 p.m., NBC Sports) in a nationally televised match on Aug. 1. In the meantime, the Union will test its mettle this upcoming week against English Premier League side Crystal Palace FC on Friday, July 25 (7 p.m., purchase tickets) at PPL Park.
“I am proud of our guys,” Curtin said. “It was the third game in a week and it’s a good result on the road…we are on a good run, it’s been very positive and the guys in the locker room are happy. We’re excited to keep this going and hoping it takes us to where we want to be at the end of the season.”
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org