By AVI CREDITOR
Advantage, new guys.
Major League Soccer's freshest regional rivalry produced a riveting first chapter, with the expansion Philadelphia Union securing its first-ever win with a 3-2 result over league stalwart D.C. United Saturday night.
Sebastien Le Toux's goal off an 80th-minute free kick snapped a 2-2 tie and completed his hat trick, as the Union resembled nothing like the team that crumbled at Seattle on the season's opening night.
Instead, playing in front of 34,870 raucous supporters, the Union played like its name – a cohesive, confident unit that showed it was capable of coming up with creative touches and dangerous runs in building a promising attack.
"We looked like we had a little bit more cohesiveness than people have thought or realized that we had," said assistant John Hackworth, who stepped in as the team's head coach for the night. Peter Nowak was at the match but watched from the coaching booth; He had a strong connection to some of the victims of the tragic plane crash in Poland and paid his respects by not working the match.
"In the end we had great resolve, because we ended up gifting them two goals and somehow dug back, found a third and walked away with three points," Hackworth said.
It wasn't all roses for the home team, as Hackworth alluded. Without Le Toux's final tally everyone might be talking about how Philadelphia squandered points at home on a horrific gaffe by keeper Chris Seitz that allowed Jaime Moreno to level the score at 2-all in the 69th minute.
While Seitz was preparing to punt away the ball, Moreno stuck by his side and distracted the keeper enough to have him drop the ball by mistake. The league's all-time leading scorer pounced on the opportunity, sliding the easiest of shots into the back of the net and breathing temporary life into D.C. United.
"I was looking to play it early, and there weren't too many options, so I held on to it and let the guys get up," Seitz said. "(Moreno) took a nudge at me as I was about to kick the ball, and I got caught. It happens. Sebastien stepped up, and I'm glad he came through for us. I really appreciate it."
Le Toux's free kick and third goal was set up by a Dejan Jakovic foul that drew a red card just outside the penalty area. The D.C. centerback got tangled with Union striker Alejandro Moreno as the ball bounced over both of them into the edge of the area, and referee Terry Vaughn ruled that not only did Jakovic commit the foul, but that Moreno would've had a clear path on goal.
Both players had different recollections of the game's turning point.
"He hooked me a little bit," Jakovic said. "I felt that there's a lot worse fouls in the game than that one. I put my hand on him for two seconds, not really pulling or anything."
Said Moreno: "I just turned him and spinned (sic) him, and as I was going to goal he grabbed me from behind. I knew I didn't have a clear opportunity at that point, so I was just able to draw the foul."
Le Toux stepped up and confidently blasted a shot through the left side of the D.C. wall into an opening in the D.C. goal for the game-winner.
"I know that with this ball it is very quick, and the ball goes very fast, and I just saw the little hole and I shot the ball as strong as I could," Le Toux said. "The keeper was surprised."
Most in attendance were surprised at the offensive efficiency Philadelphia showed in the first half. At the four-minute mark Le Toux headed home a cross from Roger Torres, who impressed with his touch, speed and ability to create on his own on the right flank.
Le Toux displayed a great finishing touch on a counterattacking breakaway in the 40th minute, running onto a gorgeous through ball from Moreno in stride, fending off a defender and tucking a low shot from the top of the area past Troy Perkins. The play followed a clearance off a United corner.
"We're pretty dynamic," Moreno said of the Union's striker tandem. "I knew that once I got it past the defender, Sebastien would have a clear road going to the goal. He did very well with finishing that opportunity."
D.C., meanwhile, struggled aside from the six-minute stretch in which Santino Quaranta and Jaime Moreno scored the team's first two goals of the season.
Newcomer Danny Allsopp started aside Chris Pontius and looked out of sync. His only scoring threat came at the end of the first half, when his header off a Cristian Castillo cross went high. Moreno came on for Castillo at halftime, and Pontius shifted back to left midfield with United already down two goals.
"We knew they would bring enormous energy," D.C. coach Curt Onalfo said. "We knew it was going to be an intense opening part of the game, and I'm really disappointed we gave up a goal there early and then conceded off of our attacking corner. We dug ourselves a major hole."
D.C. (0-3-0) already has a hole to climb out of in anticipation of Saturday's home game against Chicago.
Jakovic will miss the game because of the red-card suspension, and the team's second starting centerback, Juan Manuel Pena, may not play after exiting against Philadelphia with a 15th-minute hamstring injury. That's not exactly an ideal situation when facing a striker tandem of Brian McBride and Collins John.
"We have to go back to work and figure out what's happening," Jaime Moreno said.
The Union (1-1-0) will head north of the border to take on Toronto F.C. on Thursday, riding the momentum of the organization's first victory over its rival for years to come.
"What a wonderful gift that the team has given to the city that has supported us tremendously as we started our franchise," Hackworth said.