By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — Even though it's still July, the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution are already scrapping to remain in the playoff race. On Sunday, one team earned the win they needed, while the other was left wondering what could have been.
Jack McInerney delivered a game-winning goal in the 90th minute, heading home a Sheanon Williams cross to give the Union a 2-1 victory at PPL Park on Sunday night. It was the first time this season that the Union had come back from a deficit to win a game in league play.
The victory, the Union's fourth straight at home, pulled Philadelphia into a tie with New England in the East standings, nine points behind fifth-place Chicago with two games in hand on the Fire.
"We're slowly chipping away," said Union coach John Hackworth. "You see the character in these players. I don't know that we played great in the first half. For them to come out and try to play with a lot of confidence in the second half, that's our brand of soccer. We're going to attack the whole time."
New England started the match strongly, with Saer Sene beating Zac MacMath with a wicked shot to give the Revolution a lead in the 12th minute. New England then blew a number of opportunities to extend their lead throughout the rest of the first half, and the Union were lucky to enter the locker room at halftime with the score still only 1-0.
After being outplayed and outscored in the first half, Philadelphia became more threatening in the second half and in the 59th minute, referee Edvin Jurisevic called a controversial penalty on New England when McInerney went down near the edge of the area. It left the Revs furious, as there wasn't much contact and they felt it occurred outside of the box. But Freddy Adu stepped up to the spot anyway and secured an equalizer for the Union.
In the closing moments, as the match appeared headed for a draw, Sheanon Williams earned some space on the right flank and delivered a pinpoint cross to McInerney, whose header beat Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis.
Union captain Carlos Valdes, fresh off his appearance in the All-Star Game, then pulled off some key tackles in stoppage time to preserve three huge points for Philadelphia, who went level with the Revs in the Eastern Conference standings with the win.
"It's a confidence-builder, and it shows the character of our team," said McInerney. "We don't give up until the end of the game. We want to be in the playoffs. We have to win every game at home and get a couple of results on the road. If we keep the run going and keep getting those three points we'll be right there."
If the Union do in fact keep the run going, they're likely to climb quickly in the Eastern Conference standings. They now find themselves four points behind the Montreal Impact, but Philadelphia has four games in hand on the expansion side. Columbus is five points ahead of the Union with the same number of games played, while the fifth-place Fire are now only nine points away and the Union have two games in hand on them.
"We wanted to move up in the standings, and we did that," said Sheanon Williams. "We've got a bunch of games on Montreal, so we're on their backs and we're coming for spots. We're on a good run, and hopefully we'll continue that."
New England, meanwhile, were left wondering what they did wrong in a game that they led for nearly an hour before a highly controversial penalty call went the other team's way.
"I think it is a harsh penalty. I think we all know it was outside the box," said Revs coach Jay Heaps. "Now if that's not called does the momentum swing that quick? I don't think so but that being said, we had our chances to win the game. We had chances to go up 2-0 or 3-0. We didn't do it, and we left reeling a little bit."
With the loss, the Revolution fell into a tie with the Union for eighth place in the East, and New England has played two more games. Only Toronto FC has less points per game of any Eastern Conference team.
"I think we need to take a hard long look at ourselves but at the same time, look at the negatives and look at the positives, adjust and move forward," Heaps said.
A long homestand now ends for Philadelphia, as they take to the road next Saturday to face the Montreal Impact. It'll be the second straight game in which the Union face the team directly above them in the East standings. The Revolution, meanwhile, will look to rebound on Saturday when they host another struggling Eastern Conference team, Sporting Kansas City, at Gillette Stadium.
Here are the match highlights: