Since the beginning of the season, Union manager John Hackworth has been asking his team to exhibit a complete 90 minute effort.
No letdowns. No last second miscues.
On Saturday against the Chicago Fire, Hackworth and Co. received exactly that and more as his side rid themselves from the sting of a demoralizing midweek loss to Los Angeles with a commanding performance en route to another 1-0 win and weeklong sweep of Chicago.
Union forward Jack McInerney separated himself in a tight race for MLS’ Golden Boot with a goal in the third minute of play, after he headed a perfect inswinger from Sebastien Le Toux past Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson. McInerney’s goal was his eighth of the MLS regular season and Le Toux’ helper marked his fourth assist, both of which are league highs.
“I think Chicago is a much better team than their record shows and credit to them,” said Hackworth. “They certainly tried to come in and put us under a ton of pressure and their ball movement was dangerous, so for us to have to deal with that for 90 plus minutes and grab this win says lot about our guys.”
Conversely, Chicago (2-7-1, seven points) was forced to deal with a Union contingent that created a ton of chances. The official stat sheet shows the Union with a game high 12 attempts on goal, four of which gave Johnson a scare. Much of the play in this match came from the stellar midfield play once again from Kleberson, who was paired with Michael Farfan who pinched in from a right midfield role to support and from the tireless efforts of Brian Carroll, who played one of his finest games for the club this season.
“He’s got such good feet and great vision that he draws some attention from the [opposing] defense,” Carroll said of Kleberson postgame. “It helps our outside midfielders and forwards going into the attack and allows me to focus on solidifying us defensively. It gives me an extra second or two as well to find him or find someone else to switch the play [on the field]. We are happy to have someone of his caliber on the team.”
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Danny Cruz, customarily on the right flank was switched to the left and was tireless on attack creating chances inside the 18-yard-box, but was forced to come out in the 64th minute after sustaining an injury he diagnosed as an ankle contusion. Cruz walked on his own fine after the game and said coming out was more of a precaution.
He also spoke on the team effort that allowed the Union (5-4-3, 18 points) to come away with a strong win at PPL Park.
“It’s no secret when we played [Chicago at Toyota Park] we got outplayed, but I always say good teams find a way to win and we did,” said Cruz. “And tonight they came out a bit more physical but credit to us I think we stayed together as a unit and it was a good group effort. Our back line play well, a lot of good running from our guys in the midfield and I’d like to point out Sebastien Le Toux, who was phenomenal today. He was outstanding all the way around.”
In their three-game, eight day stretch, the Union captured six of nine possible points and earned those points both home and on the road. It was the club’s first win at PPL Park since March 16 after a late goal from McInerney sealed a 1-0 victory over New England. The Union will now enjoy a few days off before their next match next Saturday at Stade Saputo against Montreal (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) followed by third round U.S. Open Cup action against either the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in Steel City or an opener at PPL Park against the Ocean City Nor’Easters. Either match will be set for a 7 p.m. kick on May 28.
“It was a wild week, but two wins in one week is solid,” said Carroll. “It was lopsided result midweek, but the guys picked themselves up and responded. Anytime you can beat a team twice in one week you take a lot of pride in that.”
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org