Smart runs meshed with well-timed passing.
Chances were aplenty and as a result of taking advantage of a few of them, at the end two halves of soccer Sunday night at PPL Park, it was the Union celebrating a 4-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.
The night went to forward Andrew Wenger whose two goals on the night opened and capped an affair that improved the Union to 7-9-9 (30 points) to just one point away from the fifth and last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“I’m enjoying it,” Wenger said of his Man of the Match night. “With the pass or shot, I’m trying to be a little bit more precise there at times. That’s where the challenge is. This [game] was important, but as I was saying, it’s just one at a time. You just try and get as many wins as possible and keep things rolling.”
Right from the start, the Union asserted itself not with possession as much as going at the Earthquakes with pace on the counter attack running at a flat back four that had little answer for the myriad diagonal runs and numbers to pick up in the box in front of an equally confused San Jose (6-10-7, 25 points) goalkeeper in Jon Busch. Wenger scored his third of the season in MLS play in the 10th minute, followed by a trademark finish from forward Sebastien Le Toux in the 14th minute.
The goal was Le Toux’ 11th of the season and his three assists on the night increased that number to five. The Frenchman has now scored in seven of the club’s last nine games. The Union also received the go-ahead goal from Sheanon Williams, who drew a foul in the 71st minute and was rewarded a minute later and a whipping Le Toux free kick found Williams near post. Williams bullied his way into goal and hit a perfect glancing header past Busch and into the corner of the far netting.
Tonight also saw the debut of Algerian goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, who led the team to the tune of needing to make just two saves. Mbolhi, the two-time FIFA World Cup veteran looked strong in between the pipes, with smart decisions and timely punches to clear danger. A goal from Chris Wondolowski and a blast Sam Cronin notwithstanding, Mbolhi looked like the veteran all hoped he’d be once he settled in.
Earlier this season, goals were few and far between, but under the guidance of Union interim manager Jim Curtin the Union has netted 16 goals in its last nine MLS matches. Very quietly during his term as top man, Curtin has compiled an 8-2-4 record in all competitions. The team will now enjoy a week long respite from MLS competition, but will travel to take on developmental affiliate Harrisburg at the Skyline Sports Complex this Thursday (7 p.m.).
The club will then host Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC on Sept. 3. That game kick starts a six-game in four week odyssey for the Union highlighted by the U.S. Open Cup final against Seattle Sounders FC on Sept. 16 at PPL Park (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets).
For now, it’s enjoying a win that showcased this team as a legitimate playoff contender, and a club that looks to have found its hot streak at the right time.
“Credit to our guys for sticking with it and getting the result,” said Curtin. “Scoring four goals at home is always a positive, but all week we talked about shutouts and protecting this house and not giving up goals. But hey, four goals at home; we’re happy with three points and that’s kind of the name of the game at this stage.”
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org