Now that’s one way to snap a losing streak.
Sorely needing a goal deep into stoppage time, Zach Pfeffer – one of a few Union players going through individual ups and downs this season – perfectly slotted home the gamewinner in between a diving Bill Hamid and the left post to send 16,853 fans into jubilation.
Two minutes later, it was officially the second win of the season, snapping both a franchise-long four-game losing streak and D.C. United's eight-game unbeaten streak.
“I couldn’t be happier for the guys,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “They’ve put a good shift in. We went with an experienced, older group and they really emptied their tank for me tonight and left a lot on the field. They left it all on the field.”
As the seconds counted on, though, it appeared to be another frustrating night at the office for the Union, who didn’t allow a single shot on target for the second time this season. Still, even with arguably their best performance of the season, it seemed destined for naught once the fourth official flashed the remaining time on a hot and humid night at PPL Park.
But well used to dramatic finishes – some for, most against during 2015 – the Union managed to finally bury a D.C. United team that appeared content with a draw. The Union won possession 54-46 and allowed just five shots total, none of which forced a save from Brian Sylvestre. But it was Pfeffer’s late dramatics that stole the show.
“It’s great for Zach to get on the end of that,” Curtin said. “[He came] into the game and giving us energy and some legs. I thought Fabinho came into a tough spot and it’s tough as a defender. Zach did very well on the goal but you have to look at the little things off of the ball that you don’t see that lead up to the cross.”
And as for a sigh of relief, it showed. Pfeffer was immediately mobbed by his teammates, notably Sheanon Williams, where the play started ironically enough.
Yes, on the re-start, it was Williams throwing in to Ethan White who gave away to Maurice Edu. Edu then gave way to Fabinho – who substituted on for an injured Ray Gaddis – who sent in a gorgeous cross that looked destined for Sebastien Le Toux. But it was his dummy that let it play right to Pfeffer, who buried it.
“It’s a great moment for myself, but more importantly a great moment for the team,” Pfeffer said. “We finally got that win that we’ve been yearning for and now hopefully that’ll ignite us and push us to keep going. Kind of switch the season and gain some more momentum now. But, a great feeling, I’m so happy.”
Of course, it wasn’t easy. D.C. United, the table leaders in the Eastern Conference, were perfectly content with grinding out the road point. The Union rarely found openings and when they did, star goalkeeper Bill Hamid was there to put out the fire.
Not including the 17th minute, though. Conor Casey, who made his first start of the year, scored what appeared to be the opening goal of the game, but it was correctly overturned due to Casey bringing it down with his hand. While the Union had some more opportunities as the game wore on, it looked as though the disallowed goal was going to be just another note on a season-long list of unfortunate circumstances for the Union.
Right before halftime, Casey had another point-blank shot, this time brilliantly saved from Hamid.
In the 73rd, Hamid was at it again, like out of a textbook, perfectly coming out to and cutting down all angles on Le Toux, who was sent in free from Maidana and appeared to be in an excellent goal-scoring opportunity.
“I thought Bill Hamid was excellent tonight and made a couple saves, point blank, to keep them in it,” Curtin said.
For D.C. United, the loss snapped an eight-game unbeaten streak and is just their second loss of the entire year. They’ll travel to Massachusetts this week to play New England.
“We said it before, it’s not easy coming here,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “No team in the league thinks it’s easy to come to Philadelphia. I felt they brought a lot more to the table tonight, energy-wise, physicality… and their physicality was tough to deal with tonight.”
Now the Union will look to capitalize on the positive momentum when they continue a three-game swing against their main rivals, D.C. United and New York Red Bulls. They’ll be in Harrison, N.J. Sunday to face another top opponent in the East in the Red Bulls. That game will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1 with kick-off scheduled for 5 p.m.
“[Red Bulls head coach] Jesse Marsch is a great friend of mine,” Curtin said. “He’s done a heck of a job. They high press all over the field. Their arena is a tough place to go and it’s no secret that they’re a big rival but we’ll break and bounce back.”
Now that’s one way to snap a losing streak.