By TYLER DAY
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.– It wasn’t pretty, but the Philadelphia Union didn’t need it to be. On a day when the Chicago Fire had the majority of goal scoring opportunities, it was the Union, led by goalkeeper Zac MacMath and an opportunistic goal by league-leader Jack McInerney, that sunk the Fire, 1-0, at Toyota Park.
“You have to give Chicago credit because they came out and really tried to push the game,” said Union head coach John Hackworth. “I wouldn’t say we played our best soccer, but we found a way to get a result here and that’s huge.”
Chicago controlled play for much of the match, including a furious start to the second half led by Patrick Nyarko. But MacMath saved six shots in the team’s second clean sheet of the year, their first in nearly two months. Coming into the game, Philadelphia was near the top of the Eastern Conference with 14 goals allowed.
“I think Zac was our man of the match for sure,” Hackworth said. “A couple huge saves to keep us in the game, otherwise we really would have been in a bad spot.”
With the match scoreless mid-way through the first half, second-half substitute Sebastien Le Toux sent a looping ball over the defense to the oncoming McInerney. The 20-year-old, who was otherwise ineffective on Saturday, calmly settled the ball and scored past an outstretched Sean Johnson for his league-leading seventh goal of 2013.
“That’s usually how it is on the road in this league,” McInerney said after the match. “You’ve just got to battle and if you can hold a zero in the back than anything can happen. Credit Zac and our back four. They did a great job today and it just took one.”
The Fire played without Sherjill MacDonald, who was a late scratch, and head coach Frank Klopas shifted winger Patrick Nyarko to central striker. The move looked like it would pay off, as Nyarko was able to consistently beat the Union defense off the dribble. Chicago had an opportunity in the 33rd minute when Nyarko made his way into the box. He found Daniel Palidini who looked to have an open goal in front of him, but MacMath fearlessly closed to block the attempt out for a corner.
Nyarko had another chance in the 48th minute when Dilly Duka passed him the ball in the box, but the Ghanaian’s shot hit the outside of the post and scooted wide.
Again the Fire couldn’t capitalize in the 74th minute when Chris Rolfe sent a pass across to Nyarko, but his outstretched leg couldn’t get a touch on the ball.
In the end, MacMath’s heroics in net, and McInerney’s league-leading seventh goal, proved too tough to overcome.
Asked about his upstart striker after the game, Hackworth assured reporters he is not surprised at the youngster’s production. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but no I’m not. He is an excellent goal scorer and he is developing and we saw last year he was capable of this kind of season. The thing I’m most pleased with is that he continues to try to play the game the same way. He hasn’t let anything effect him and he’s had a lot of attention in the past month.”
Saturday’s game marked the first of three games in eight days for the Union, who will next host the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday before a rematch with the Fire next Saturday.
“Things weren’t pretty [today] but the difference between last year and this year is the guys have heart and stay together and we fought for three points,” MacMath said.
The Fire drop their second game in a row and now fall further out of playoff contention in the East. It was the fifth time they have been shutout in nine games this season.
“Obviously it’s frustrating in games like that, but that’s soccer,” Klopas said after the game. “You scratch your head at times, but I felt that we played well enough for sure not to lose but to get the three points today.”
Hackworth acknowledged the Union are likely to see a very motivated Fire team next week.
“We’ll have to mix it up. It’s going to be really hard on us to get through these eight days and three matches. We know we’ll see a very competitive [team] and they’ll come to Philly and look to steal the three points there.”
Here is McInerney’s goal: