Throughout the season, Head Coach Jim Curtin has been preaching passion, hard work and effort. It's been mentioned in every press conference during the 2017 season. Curtin believed that if his team gave him those three things, then they had a good shot at winning the match that week. Against New York Red Bulls, the Union played with passion, worked hard and gave maximum effort, and walked away with a 3-0 win. And it wasn't just because of one player, but because of the whole team.
"Full credit to the players," Curtin said. "I thought they came out and really executed. You could really go through each and every guy and check off a lot of positive boxes. We're really happy with the way the team stuck together, the work they put in. Every guy on the field really stepped up and I thought we deserved the full three points."
It's easy to start with CJ Sapong as a catalyst for the Union offense. Heading into the match, he had four goals on the season, then potted his first career hat-trick in an 11-minute span in the second half. Sapong got the Union on the board first in the 74th minute when his shot redirected off Aaron Royer and into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead. Seven minutes later, Sapong added his second of the night, when he headed home a headed pass from Chris Pontius for the 2-0 lead. And when the Union were given a penalty kick for a New York handball in the box in the 85th minute, Sapong buried it for his first career hat-trick.
"CJ is very hot right now," Curtin said. "But it is a team effort, I thought the service he got tonight was excellent. CJ has carried us with some goals, but I would add a lot of the passes to him were special as well. He's confident, and when strikers are confident, they go on runs. He's done a good job and has scored goals in a lot of different ways. CJ's a very good striker who's in good form right now. When he's confident, he's as dangerous as any guy in our league."
Obviously, the Union couldn't win without Sapong's three goals, but it also could not have happened without Andre Blake's stellar play.
Blake kept his second clean sheet in as many games, the first time in his career he had back-to-back shutouts, and it was also his first shut out against New York Red Bulls. And without a doubt he earned his clean sheet.
Blake was put to the test early when he denied Kemar Lawrence right at the goal line in the 20th minute. And just minutes before Sapong scored his second goal of the game, Blake made a huge stop on Bradley Wright-Phillips, who flicked a shot on net off a cross, which could have easily found the back of the net if it hadn't been for a diving save by Blake.
"Andre makes those big saves and it gives everyone belief," Curtin said. "(His save on Bradley Wright-Phillips) was a moment that gave guys some confidence. Guys got bigger and it was really good to get the three goals. But I'm actually more proud of the clean sheet, the zero that we kept. To have a big save or a big tackle in the box, I think the guys really laid it on the line. I'm really proud of the players."
Sapong and Blake were named to MLS Team of the Week for their efforts in the match, and they definitely deserve the spotlight for their play. But the Union also got key contributions from players up and down the lineup.
Ray Gaddis started his third consecutive game for the first time since the end of the 2015 season, and gave the Union a quality 62 minutes before being subbed off with a leg injury. Oguchi Onyewu made his first start since April 8 due to Richie Marquez's illness, and played a key role in keeping Bradley Wright-Phillips off the board. Jack Elliott was also tasked with keeping Wright-Phillips off the board, and he made a key foul, which led to a yellow, to make sure he stayed off the board.
"Jack Elliott has been excellent for us," Curtin said. "He makes those little plays. That play, I don't want to applaud because it was a yellow card, but to foul at midfield, people don't realize how big that play is. For a young kid to have that midset, to see that and put out that fire is a big boy play. (Oguchi Onyewu) has been everything we could have asked for this year. He put his arm around Jack and has helped him a lot in his growth. For him to go out after a couple games off and put in that performance was special. It's not an easy task to contain Wright-Phillips, but they did a good job of that."
It wasn't just back line players who made an impact on the match either; the Union went to the bench, and the subs made a significant impact on the match.
In the 62nd minute, Derrick Jones and Keegan Rosenberry subbed into the match for Roland Alberg and Ray Gaddis, respectively, and both helped push the Union offense forward and create scoring chances. Fabian Herbers entered the match in the 78th minute, and three minutes later, he crossed a pass to Chris Pontius, who headed it to Sapong for his second goal. Herbers registered his first assist since his first of the season against Toronto FC, while Pontius's primary assist was his third on the season, tying Haris Medunjanin for the team lead.
"Derrick Jones and Keegan Rosenberry, they're both really good players," Curtin said. "Ray put in a great shift and had a tough injury, but Keegan came in and stepped on the field in a tough spot and did a great job. Derrick gets thrown in and doesn't get nervous, and that's a good thing. He's a special player. Chris has worked through tough situations, no question about it. He's a guy that's an experience player, a guy I believe in and need on the field because I know what he's going to give. He's a leader out there."
Not all of the contributions were on the offensive side of the ball. Playing both the No. 8 and No. 10 roles, captain Alejandro Bedoya was tasked with keeping Sacha Kljestan in check, with a little help. Kljestan entered the match leading the Red Bulls in assists and MLS in scoring chances. Bedoya constantly swarmed him whenever he had the ball, making his life difficult. When the final whistle sounded, Kljestan was held without an assist for the third straight game while only creating one chance, which the Union snuffed out.
"I don't think it's just one guy, a lot of guys put in hard work and made it a hard night for Sacha," Curtin said. "Sacha is one of the best players in this league, and we did a good job of neutralizing him and containing him. Ale put in a great shift."
The Union got their first win of the season with the team's 3-0 win against New York Red Bulls, and it was because the entire team put in a full effort. The Union will look to make it two in a row against DC United this weekend in Philadelphia's final trip to RFK Stadium. Kick-off is at 7:00 p.m.