Coming off a 5-1 thrashing against LA Galaxy on Saturday, Union head coach Jim Curtin preached the importance of an organized defense this week, as well as protecting their home field at PPL Park. With arguably the most important stretch of the season at the forefront – three home games over the next seven days – a good performance Wednesday night was a must.
A clean sheet and three points certainly is a step in the right direction.
No, it wasn’t the prettiest game, but behind C.J. Sapong’s franchise-tying fourth consecutive game with a goal, the Union picked up a sorely needed 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC.
"While it wasn’t a perfect game, nobody remembers at the end of the year what the three points looked like in the end of June," Curtin said. "So again, a big three points for us, a much-needed three points and climbed up a little bit in the points."
The start was unfortunate to say the least, though. Captain Maurice Edu appeared to break a scoreless tie in the 27th minute after a long-throw from Sheanon Williams. But Andrew Wenger was ruled to have fouled Sounders keeper Stefan Frei before Edu slotted one home.
Just three minutes later, Wenger was then fouled inside the box earning the Union their first penalty of the season. Edu stepped up to take, but was denied by Frei.
It could have been a real turning point for the Union, as the game somehow remained 0-0 despite two excellent goalscoring opportunities.
But the Union defense held strong. They held Seattle without a shot on target – and only two overall attempts – in the first half and limited them to just two all game. For Brian Sylvestre, he kept a clean sheet for the fourth time in just his eighth game played in MLS.
“I’ll always remain humble – I have things to work on,” the rookie keeper said. “Four shutouts is good, but the most important thing is we worked together as a team and got three points.”
But it was the goal in 69th minute that got the win. Williams played an absolutely perfect ball in for Sapong, who did the rest, heading it on net, where Frei could only get a hand to it.
“Actually I had a headset on and he kind of buzzed me and told me to make that run,” Sapong joked about him and Williams being on the same page. “No, man that’s playing together enough and finally getting the timing right. I think we’ve been looking for it all season and it finally clicked.”
Said Williams: “The amount of headballs that CJ wins is somewhat incredible. He’s a monster so you just loft it up and let him go get it.”
For Sapong, it’s his sixth goal of the season and fifth in his last six games since returning from a month-long absence.
"I think if you go back it starts at what was maybe our best win and maybe best performance of the year in New York, when he comes off the bench there and gives us a 'holy cow' moment where he just takes over the game, scores a goal but is just a handful," Curtin said. "And it sounds cheesy but he does have a different look in his eye, when I put him in that game -- he’s usually a pretty laid back smiley kind of happy-go-lucky guy -- but there was a desire that you took note is what I would say and I think he’s carried that now in every game."
The fourth consecutive game with a goal tied the franchise record with Jack McInerney, who set that record back in October 2012.
“I can’t really remember if I had quite a stretch in Kansas City,” Sapong said. “But what I really take the most out of it is enjoying it and having fun on the field. That’s all I can ask for.”
While his form has been impeccable, he has been a busy man of late. Sapong has played all 300 minutes over the last week, but it’d be hard to imagine Curtin giving him a break now. That’s not a problem, though.
“I feel really good,” he said. “When you’re tapping into an energy that’s just an all-appreciative and in-the-moment type of energy, it’s very different. I was probably fitter in the beginning of the season but I don’t think I could have gone this stretch of minutes without feeling heavy in the legs. I’m just riding the wave right now.”
The Union are back on the field Saturday against Montreal Impact at PPL Park, who they’ve never lost to (2-0-2) in Chester. Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on 6abc.
What did you think was the key to victory against Seattle?
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.