By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa— It took more than a month, and it wasn't pretty, but the Philadelphia Union earned their first win of the season in front of 18,526 fans at PPL Park on Saturday.
Eric Gehrig handled a Freddy Adu cross in the 37th minute and Gabriel Gomez buried the ensuing penalty to give the Union a 1-0 lead. Then the Union defense held strong for almost an hour, and kept a clean sheet to seal the three points for Philadelphia. It was their first win of the season, and it snapped an eight game winless streak that stretched back to last year.
Led by Adu, who returned to the lineup after missing several games due to Olympic qualifying, Philadelphia controlled possession for large stretches of the game. Columbus made a solid effort to find an equalizer in the last fifteen minutes, but it wasn't enough as the Crew fell to their second straight loss.
"It was extremely important for the guys in the locker room to have this feeling of the three points," said Union coach Peter Nowak. "They played an exceptional game, from having a second shutout, we didn't give up many shots on goal; it was very important for their confidence."
The Union's lineup was forced to change suddenly in the moments leading up to the match. Captain Danny Califf, who has struggled to stay on the field this season, was a late scratch when he aggravated a hamstring injury in the pre-game warmups. Rookie right back Raymon Gaddis was forced into action and Sheanon Williams shifted to center back.
Philadelphia came out looking for a goal early, and they combined well in the midfield through Adu, Michael Farfan, and Keon Daniel. When the Gehrig was called for a handball on Adu's driven cross in the 37th minute, Gomez's ensuing penalty goal was nothing more than the Union deserved.
Columbus improved in the second half, bringing on Bernardo Anor and Emilio Renteria to aid in the attack. Their best scoring chance came in the 54th minute when Olman Vargas was sent in on goal but Zac MacMath came out of his net to strongly clear the ball from him.
The Union withstood a late push from Columbus and held on for the 1-0 win, one that they desperately needed.
"We've stressed over weeks now that if you're in a position where you've lost a couple of games, and there's pressure on you, then sometimes you take the safe way," Nowak said. "But they start trusting each other with the ball, with the combinations, with the triangles. They were very good in this regard."
The key to victory for the Union, in the end, was their defense. Despite having to readjust moments before the game, the team managed to record their second straight clean sheet.
"Danny (Califf) was with us in warmups and just didn't feel ready to go," said Williams. "So we just made some quick adjustments and got ready for the game. But with that said, and us having to change the lineup right before the game, I think that the whole team helped each other out and the back line did a good job of making sure we had cover for each other."
The make-shift Union back-line wound up handling the Crew offense with relative ease, as Williams looked like a natural in central defense and Gaddis put in an outstanding performance in his professional debut.
Columbus, on the other hand, was very disappointed with the result, losing 1-0 in a game where they only goal was a penalty from handball.
"I think it was a physical game, and we came to play," said coach Robert Warzycha. "Obviously Philadelphia, with their record, wanted to win the game. For us, I think we matched their intensity. Unfortunately, we lose on a penalty that was very questionable."
It was the second straight loss for Columbus, having dropped a home game 4-1 last week to New York. They return home next week, where they will host the Houston Dynamo. Philadelphia, meanwhile, takes to the road as they will face Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center next Saturday.