CHESTER, Pa. – With their first win in two months, the Philadelphia Union have put themselves right back near the top of the Eastern Conference.
On Saturday evening, in front of a sellout crowd of 18,906 at PPL Park, the Union used a goal from Sébastien Le Toux and a second straight shutout performance from their defense to earn a critical 1-0 victory over the visiting Columbus Crew.
With the result, the third-place Union (9-7-12, 39 points) move within two points of first-place Columbus (11-10-8, 41 points) with still a game in hand on them.
To snap their eight-game winless streak – the longest in franchise history – the Union featured perhaps one of their most unconventional lineups in franchise history.
With veterans Justin Mapp (quad strain), Veljko Paunović (calf strain) and Faryd Mondragón (broken finger) all sidelined for Philly, Union manager Peter Nowak trotted out a starting 11 that averaged 23.55 years of age and featured seven players 23 or under. Among that group was 16-year-old Zach Pfeffer, who got the call to make his MLS debut in what was one of the most important games in Union history.
Morgan Langley, who was just signed this week, also made his MLS debut for the Union, coming on in the 80th minute to help preserve the win. And Philly’s other two second-half subs – 20-year-olds Danny Mwanga and Amobi Okugo – didn’t make the Union any older, either.
But the fresh-faced Union attacked well for much of the game and struck first with a 32-minute goal from Le Toux, who broke free after a brilliant long ball from Roger Torres and beat Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer with a clinical finish.
It was the team-leading seventh goal of the season for the red-hot Le Toux and his sixth in the last six games.
Neither team would score again before the halftime break, although Columbus striker Tom Heinemann and Pfeffer both had solid chances in the box in the final minutes of the first half. The Crew’s best scoring opportunity probably came earlier – in the 16th minute – when Andres Mendoza’s long-distance blast was saved by diving Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. It turned out to be the only shot on target for the Crew all game.
There were very few highlights in the second half, even as Columbus pressed for the draw. For the Union, a Michael Farfan cross was bobbled by Hesmer but Mwanga couldn’t get to the rebound in time, and minutes later Le Toux received an over-the-top pass from Okugo but his shot went high.
The Crew came into Saturday’s game shorthanded with Chad Marshall (hip flexor strain), Emilio Rentiera (concussion), Eddie Gaven (lower leg contusion) and Emmanuel Ekpo (red card suspension) among their absences.
The Union return to action on Friday with a key road game against Sporting Kansas City, while the Crew host the Galaxy next Saturday.
PHI -- Sebastien Le Toux 7 (Roger Torres 1) 32
Columbus Crew -- William Hesmer, Sebastian Miranda, Julius James, Shaun Francis, Eric Gehrig, Dilly Duka, Danny O'Rourke, Dejan Rusmir (Josh Gardner 83), Robbie Rogers, Tommy Heinemann (Justin Meram 62), Andres Mendoza (Jeff Cunningham 74).
Substitutes Not Used: Cole Grossman, Aaron Horton, Josh Williams, Chris Konupka.
Philadelphia Union -- Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan, Zach Pfeffer (Danny Mwanga 62), Freddy Adu (Amobi Okugo 75), Brian Carroll, Roger Torres (Morgan Langley 80), Sebastien Le Toux, Michael Farfan.
Substitutes Not Used: Jack McInerney, Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Thorne Holder.
CLB -- Dejan Rusmir (caution; Handball) 12
Referee: Alex Prus
Referee's Assistants: -Chris Strickland; Adam Garner
4th Official: Edvin Jurisevic
Time of Game: 1:51
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-68-degrees