Union fans had waited long enough fireworks. So did Andrew Wenger, but probably not for the post-game festivities.
The much-maligned midfielder has done everything for head coach Jim Curtin this year – except for finding the back of the net, which has led to the ongoing criticism of both player and coach. Week-in and week-out, Curtin has defended the 24 year old by rewarding him with another start, crediting his hard work in every facet of the game. But seemingly each week, Wenger has narrowly missed goals in agonizing fashion, questioning what the Lancaster, Pa. native could have possibly done to the soccer Gods.
But that all ended in a second-half rout, started by Wenger who finally broke through with a beautiful left-footed shot in the 69th minute.
“Relief. It’s been a long time and I thought maybe I really was cursed there for a little bit but I’m happy to finally see it go in,” Wenger said. “Little bit of shock on my face because I thought maybe there was a post back there somewhere.”
Perhaps only fitting that it was Wenger to open the flood gates after nearly 70 scoreless minutes. Vincent Nogueira added a goal two minutes later, then added his second of the night just 11 minutes after that to give the Union their second three-goal win of the year. Nogueira now has five goals on the season, more than double what the French midfielder had last year in his first season with the Union. But that's a story for another day. Saturday night was about Wenger.
“He’s gotten good looks this year; nothing has seemed to go in for him,” Curtin said. “I know a lot of people wanted me to bail out and move on and not continue to believe in what Andrew does but I still see the guy from preseason and the guy from the end of last year and a play like that can be the difference.”
Also not to get lost in the shuffle was Cristian Maidana, who had assists on all three goals, now giving the Argentine midfielder nine on the year. That’s good for second in MLS alongside Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber. Columbus Crew SC’s Ethan Finlay leads the league 10.
“I think ever since he’s been married he’s been a much better player,” Curtin joked after the game since Maidana was married last weekend. “You have highs and lows with Chaco. You have moments in the first half where it looks like he’s dead and he’s gassed and his legs are shot and then you have the highs where he makes the pass that I can’t teach, no one can teach. He has some special qualities.”
When it was all said and done, the Union picked up three points to move to 22 on the season. They sit just two points short of Columbus and Orlando City for third place, both of whom are tied with 24 points in 20 games – just one less than the Union. While the slow start still has the Union in less than ideal position – 9th in points per game – the win Saturday certainly helped, especially with some more help throughout the rest of the Eastern Conference.
And their play has certainly improved; they’re now 7-3-1 in their last 11 games in all competitions
“Right now I think that you can see a confident team,” Curtin said. “Every good team I’ve ever been on in my life as a player had some hard moments together before they won anything together. [You’re] starting to see a group that believes in each other.”
But there was one piece of bad news for the Union on Saturday. Captain Maurice Edu picked up his eighth yellow card of the year, leading to another one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Next up for the Union will be AFC Bournemouth on Tuesday at PPL Park. Recently promoted to the English Premier League, Bournemouth is the club’s annual international opponent. The Union return to league play next Saturday when they travel up North to face Toronto FC. The Reds will be missing Americans Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, who are away on international duty for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
What did you think was the key to the 3-0 Union victory? Leave you comment below.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.