Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIPhotos.com
By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — They may have a new head coach, but it was the same old story in front of goal for the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night and DC United made them pay.
Chris Ponitus converted a Branko Boskovic free kick in the 78th minute and that was all DC United needed to spoil John Hackworth's first game as interim team manager of the Union, as DC went on to win the game, 1-0 in front of 18,876 fans at PPL Park.
Philadelphia came out with plenty of energy and controlled the tempo for more than an hour to start the game. But they couldn't convert any of their chances, and when Valdes lost track of Pontius in the box on a set piece situation, DC made the Union pay and took the 1-0 lead.
DC United began to control more possession after their goal, and despite some good attacking substitutions by Philadelphia, they managed to hold on for a quality win that kept them in first place in the Eastern Conference.
"They caused a lot of problems with guys that had freedom to roam," said DC United coach Ben Olsen. "They were good — give them a lot of credit. At the end of the day, it’s about winning games. We defended the box real well all night long. That’s what you have to do in away games in this league."
In his debut game as interim team manager of the Union, Hackworth opted for a new-look lineup that included Amobi Okugo at center back, Josue Martinez at wide midfielder, and Jack McInerney at striker. The team largely dominated DC for the entire first half, registering nine total shots and three on target compared to United's two shots, neither of which were on target.
"We were playing some pretty decent soccer. On the field, it felt like we were just taking it to them," said Freddy Adu. "They barely created anything."
Things mostly continued that way in the second half too, but in the 78th minute Chris Pontius was taken down by Carlos Valdes outside the penalty area. While it was a questionable foul call, DC United took advantage of the opportunity and scored a goal when Branko Boskovic's free kick was tapped in by Pontius at the far post.
"They scored off the one chance they got," Adu said. "If that call doesn't go against us, maybe we're looking at a different game. The referee blew the whistle too early. Carlos (Valdes) did get the ball. Looking at the replay he might have barely touched him, but he gets the ball first."
Philadelphia brought on attacking options like Antoine Hoppenot and new signing Jorge Perlaza late in the second half, but it wasn't enough. DC defended well and even enjoyed some long spells of possession, and they held on for the 1-0 win.
It was a familiar result for Philadelphia, which since its inception has been known to dominate teams at times but also frequently fail to finish quality chances. It cost the Union once again Saturday, as they remained in second-to-last place in the East after the first game of the Hackworth era.
"The guys played fantastic," said Hackworth after the game. "If we play that way every week, we're going to win a lot of games. It's awfully disappointing, but I think there are a lot of positives to take out of this game."
DC United, meanwhile, came away with a solid win on the road against a hated rival, and they managed to do it despite having a tough time holding on to the ball for much time throughout large stretches of the match. With the win, United remained in first in the Eastern Conference.
"We didn’t play particularly well tonight,” Pontius added. "They had most of the possession, and the better of the game. But our defense came up huge, and we didn’t give them many solid chances. And in these games it's about finding ways to win, and we did that tonight."
Next week, first-place DC travels to Red Bull Arena to face New York on Sunday. Philadelphia, meanwhile, will stay at home to host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at PPL Park.