Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JOEL HOOVER
CHESTER, Pa.–John Hackworth had called it a “six-point” match. His Philadelphia Union made sure they secured it in the space of six minutes.
Three goals midway through the first half from Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, and Conor Casey gave the Philadelphia Union a resounding 3-0 home win over the Columbus Crew Tuesday night at PPL Park.
“It was important,” Hackworth said afterward. “For us to come out and have the kind of performance we did tonight, get the three points, and get a little separation from Columbus was really important for us.”
The win sees Philadelphia (6-5-4, 22 pts.) go five points ahead of Columbus (4-5-5, 17 pts.) in a crowded middle of the Eastern Conference. The Crew also hold a game in hand on the Union.
A week removed from his stoppage-time winner against Ocean City in the US Open Cup, it was Carroll who gave the Union their inspiration in the middle of the park by cutting out numerous attacks and pushing the Union forward. It was such initiative that led to the opening goal in the 25th minute, as he transitioned an intercepted pass into a drive from 25 yards that deflected off Crew defender Eric Gehrig and past a helpless Andy Gruenebaum.
“For me, Brian Carroll has played really well the past month,” Hackworth commented about the captain. “He’s turned his game up. Now we’re seeing that when we’re getting results and he’s playing well, it’s great.”
“Given the circumstances of this game and going into an international break, we had to do whatever we needed to (in order) to get this win, and we’re happy to do so,” Carroll said, speaking of both his, and the team’s, heightened performance on the back of a road loss to Montreal and a road draw last week with Toronto.
Sebastien Le Toux was influential throughout the night deployed as a winger on the right of John Hackworth’s 4-4-2 formation, as he was effectively able to go past both Tyson Wahl in the first half and Chad Barson in the second half to deliver crosses. It was his corner that led to Sheanon Williams’ half-volley finish from Brian Carroll’s skimmed header in the 29th minute, as well as a low cross for Conor Casey’s diving header in the 31st minute to put the points safely in the bag.
“It’s a good spot for me right now to contribute offensively,” Le Toux remarked on his placement out on the wing, typically not his preferred role in the past but one that has helped him take the MLS lead in assists with six.
“We all knew I can play this position with the freedom I can have (to run and cross). I’m glad to know I can be free and do whatever I want (from the wing).”
The Union were further helped by the absences of key Crew defender Chad Marshall and midfielder Eddie Gaven, both absent due to injury. Without them, Columbus struggled to contain the high pressure of Casey, McInerney, Le Toux, and Cruz across the top, as well as give forward Dominic Oduro and playmaker Federico Higuain effective support in attack.
“I thought today we put it all together,” Williams said of his and the defense’s shutout performance on Oduro and Higuain, their first clean sheet since May 18 against Chicago. “If we continue to play like that, I think it will really be hard to beat us.”
A mostly uneven second half, in which both sides traded a few chances but saw nothing come of them, brought the crowd to life with the introductions of long-absent Roger Torres and rookie Aaron Wheeler for the Union. While Wheeler was making his first MLS appearance, it was the first appearance since opening day on March 2 for Torres, amidst his fall down Hackworth’s depth chart despite the pleas of the fans.
“I felt so excited…it reminded me of how I felt in my first game,” Torres said of the rousing reception he got at the onset of his 10-minute cameo, which saw him play several of his trademark through passes in the attack. “Everybody gave me confidence…inside, I said ‘I can do good, I just want to help the team’, and I just kept the ball for us.”
Both teams will be in U.S. Open Cup action on June 12 over the upcoming break in MLS play, with the Union going to Boyds, MD to face D.C. United in the fourth round, while Columbus will travel to face the Chicago Fire.
“We get a little bit of a break now, and maybe that takes a little pressure (regarding recent form) off us as we roll into the next round of the U.S. Open Cup,” Hackworth added.