Quillo tongue out

Union blank Houston 2-0 to stay alive in Eastern Conference playoff race

With just 10 days before the Union’s biggest game of the season, Jim Curtin trotted out arguably his best lineup against Houston on Sunday night in hope of picking up some positive momentum before the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.

Consider that done.

"Something to build on, obviously, with the Cup Final coming," Curtin said after the match. "Important, just like it was important for Kansas City to get a little momentum and get a win. Two teams that have been kind of up-and-down lately, so I’m happy for us, in terms of the confidence for the locker room. I think the guys earned everything tonight. I thought they earned all three points."

The Union’s thorough 2-0 defeat of Houston was solid in all facets of the game outside of, perhaps, a 15-minute stretch after the second half in which Houston pressed high and begun to string passes together thanks to the halftime sub of Luis Garrido.

But after the Union weathered that storm, C.J. Sapong doubled the lead thanks to a hard-charging run through the box to tap in a cross from Fabinho. From there, the Union killed the game with precise passing in the midfield and dominated possession for the final half-hour.

"I talked about it at halftime, [Houston manager] Owen [Coyle] was going to give them a talking to and we were going to get their best punch in the first 15 minutes of the half," Curtin said. "And that would make or break our – I started to say this game, but then I said our season because it is at that stage. There’s desperation but this group has responded well for whatever reason when our backs are against the wall."

But it was the early start that got things going. Tranquillo Barnetta opened his Union account barely after the opening kick. Barnetta picked up a 3rd-minute goal after neatly taking in a grounded cross from Sebastien Le Toux. He then slotted in past Houston’s Tyler Deric for the opening goal.

The assist on the play went to Sebastien Le Toux, the 50th in his career placing him in elite MLS territory. He became just the 16th player in league history to register 50 career goals and 50 career assists.

For the Union, the match welcomed back to important cogs to the lineup in Maurice Edu and Cristian Maidana. Edu had missed six straight MLS games dating back to Aug. 1 against New York Red Bulls. He did play in the Union’s 1-0 win over Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, but that match was more than a month ago and even Edu admitted he sorely needed 90 minutes to shake off some rust before the Final. Fortunately for the Union, he passed dress rehearsal while staying healthy.

As for Maidana, the leagues-leader in assists, he was back after serving a two-game suspension. Curtin gave the crafty attacking midfielder 70 minutes before making way for Conor Casey and while Maidana wasn’t credited with an assist on the game’s first goal, he certainly played a big part in it by sending Le Toux through.

Now the Union will be on a short-week thanks to the late Sunday night fixture, and while they’ll have one eye on Sporting Kansas City next week, the added three points keeps Philadelphia square in the MLS Eastern Conference playoff race. The Union kept pace with Orlando City and New York City and continue to sit three points behind Montreal for the final spot, although the Impact have three games in hand.

While Curtin has hinted at what his lineup may be against New England on Saturday – just four days before the Final – he’s keeping it close to his chest.

"Yeah, I’m going to look at my full selection of players," Curtin said. "It helps to have guys in good form I think tonight when you looked down the bench, that was our strongest bench. I think it was important for those guys to go 90 knowing that the New England game, while we’re going to try to win it, we’ll have fresh legs for the final."

The Union will pick up Saturday from Gillette Stadium against the Revolution at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on The Comcast Network.

What did you think was the key to victory versus Houston? Leave your comment below.

Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at cwinkler@philadelphiaunion.com.

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