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Match report: Philadelphia Union 3-1 Chicago Fire

Jack McInerney led the Philadelphia Union from the front Wednesday night, inspiring the Union to a courageous 3-1 victory over Chicago.

Embracing the role of playoff spoiler, McInerney had the visitors in the lead after only seven minutes.

Despite their battle to finish top of the East, Chicago looked listless for large parts of the match. It wasn’t until substitute Gabriel Gomez’s thunderbolt gave the Union a two-goal cushion that the Fire sprang to life. Moments after going down a pair of goals, Dominic Oduro nestled his shot inside the near post, giving the hosts hope.

But with the Union on the back foot, Chicago forfeited their moment when Guillermo Franco’s violent tackle forced the Fire to see out the match with only 10 men.

Eager to put away the contest, the Union turned on the style, with substitute Antoine Hoppenot back-heeling Michael Farfan’s service beyond Sean Johnson and firing Philadelphia to only their third road victory of 2012.

First half

With Freddy Adu still unavailable through injury and Josue Martinez failing to impress against Columbus, John Hackworth restored Jack McInerney as the lone striker for the Union. Gabriel Farfan also sat out with an injury, forcing Keon Daniel back into the lineup as the only other change to the team that fell 3-2 to the Crew over the weekend.

Fresh off his goal-scoring cameo against Columbus, McInerney flew out of the gates in the opening minutes. First, playing Danny Cruz up the right wing, he next drove hard into the box to track down Michael Farfan’s through ball, though his centering attempt found only red shirts in the stands.

Before Chicago could settle into the match, Johnson was forced to pick the ball out of the back of his net in the 7th minute. Splitting the gap between standout centerback pairing Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry, McInerney latched onto Cruz’s perfectly weighted pass and coolly finished to Johnson’s right, announcing to the home side that the Union would not be pushovers.

Playing with an early lead, the Union settled to the point of complacency, allowing Chicago to find the game after turnovers from Michael Lahoud and Daniel gifted the Fire possession in the attacking third. When Patrick Nyarko and Sheanon Williams collided, the Union defense was left looking at the referee, but with no call forthcoming, they were only just able to clear the danger.

Struggling with both his passing and positioning against the compact Fire, Lahoud was the first entrant into the referee’s notebook when he dragged down Chris Rolfe, setting up a dangerous free kick. Daniel Paladini stepped up and curling his chance over the wall, was unlucky to see his effort glance off the outside of Zac MacMath’s post.

The physicality of the match, combined with a wet, slippery playing surface was causing both teams trouble and neither could gain the upper hand in a tightly contested midfield. Despite seeing their game plan work to perfection on McInerney’s opener, the Union rotated their front four players and McInerney was forced to play in the midfield, throwing off the chemistry of the attack.

But Chicago had little coherence in possession themselves, and it was the Union who continued to threaten Johnson’s net. Fighting off three men in the center of the pitch, Farfan released Cruz down the right flank, where he was finding plenty of space against the heavy-footed Dan Gargan, who replaced suspended fullback Gonzalo Segares. Cutting into the box, Cruz’s sharp-angle shot forced a save from the Fire keeper, pushing the ball around his far post.

The conditions nearly cost the Union in the 34th minute, but after a slip gifted Chicago a look at MacMath’s goal, Amobi Okugo slid in to make vital clearance. With the defense unable to find the ball on the slick turf, Rolfe pounced on the rebound, forcing MacMath to parry his drive away at full stretch.

With the Union well aware of their propensity for late concessions in either half, Rolfe nearly equalized on 42 minutes. Getting behind Williams at the back post, Chicago’s most in-form striker couldn’t make good contact with Alvaro Fernandez’s delivery.

It was not all good news heading into the locker room however, and the Union were forced to replace Danny Cruz after Berry showed his studs in a robust tackle that left the tough Union winger writhing in pain on the sideline. Berry was cautioned for the challenge, but the Union had to bring on Gabriel Gomez, losing the speedy wide threat who had already beaten Gargan for pace on no less than three occasions.

Second half

Trailing by only a goal, the Fire came out looking for an equalizer, sacrificing holding midfielder Logan Pause for the fleet-footed Dominic Oduro.

Another free kick from Paladini brought a smart fingertip save from MacMath before Fernandez pounced on an errant clearing header, firing well over the bar. Suddenly Carlos Valdes, Okugo and Williams were forced to make interventions (the latter with his face) as Chicago ratcheted up the pressure.

Frustrations mounted for both sides, especially in the direction of referee Abiodun Okulaja who, despite the physical nature of the match, had whistled only 6 fouls in the opening half. Players from both teams vented their anger after McInerney clearly scythed down Berry before himself being blatantly brought to deck. Fighting the conditions and the referee, both sides reverted to the sloppiness that ruled much of the first half.

Then, seemingly out of nothing, the Union doubled their advantage. Gabriel Gomez, who had done precious little for his side prior, won the ball in midfield, squaring it off to Michael Farfan. Lofting a speculative ball forward, McInerney got position and nodded the ball into the path of the chasing Gomez. Taking his chance first time, Gomez unleashed a screamer that tore past Johnson into the upper corner before the Chicago keeper could react.

Before the Union could settle into a rhythm following the goal, Chicago hit straight back. Clever and quick on a dry track, Nyarko was proving too much for Ray Gaddis on the slippery Toyota Park turf. But cutting into the Union box, Okugo maintained defensive position, forcing Nyarko across the face of goal where he got a foot on his shot. Unluckily for the Union, the carom took the ball to Oduro on the right flank and, cutting inside onto his left foot, the speedster rolled his finish inside the near post where MacMath was soundly beaten, having cheated towards the far side on the play.

Antoine Hoppenot replaced McInerney, who had run himself into the ground, but the Union couldn’t find the fresh legs of their dynamic substitute and the Fire continued to pour on the pressure. Nyarko again raced in behind, and when his cross slid through a maze of legs in the box, Oduro again collected it at the back post. This time however, Williams slid in, blocking away a chance that had looked, for all odds, to be Chicago’s equalizer.

With the field beginning to slant comfortably in the Fire’s direction, a rash challenge from substitute Guillermo Franco made a comeback much more difficult for the hosts. Challenging Brian Carroll near the center of the pitch, Franco slid past the ball, raising his exposed studs into Carroll’s shin. Fortunately for the Union man, his boot was rising out of the turf, protecting him from what could otherwise have been a serious injury. On this occasion, Okulaja did not hesitate, correctly sending off Franco.

Even down a man, Chicago continued to threaten, however, and a miscommunication between Okugo and MacMath forced both player into a full slide, with the keeper’s outstretched boot saving the day. The resulting corner could only be cleared as far as Rolfe, but Okugo got in his way, heading the shot over his own goal.

On the other end, Hoppenot’s energy finally began to pay off after the Union stripped Alex and sent the striker away. Cutting onto his left foot, Friedrich did enough to disrupt the shot, with Hoppenot shooting well wide.

Moments later, Hoppenot would have his revenge when Farfan caught up to a long ball in behind the Chicago defense. Looking for options in the box, Farfan’s low ball was slightly behind the streaking Hoppenot, but a clever back-heel tucked the ball behind Johnson, restoring the Union’s two goal cushion.

Down a man and two goals, Chicago was finally beaten and although Sherjill MacDonald and Alex had half chances, neither troubled MacMath and the Union ran out well-deserving 3-1 winners.

Another three-match week concludes Saturday, October 6 when New England Revolution come to town for the penultimate home game of the 2012 campaign.

CHICAGO FIRE

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Goals

1

3

Attempts on goal

16

5

Shots on target

5

3

Shots off target

4

2

Possession

52.5%

47.5%

Corners

7

4

Fouls

7

9

Offsides

0

1

Total passes

441

411

Passing accuracy

81.9%

80.8%

Yellow cards

1

2

Red cards

1

0

Philadelphia Union
Zac MacMath; Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams; Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud, Danny Cruz (Gabriel Gomez ’45), Michael Farfan, Keon Daniel (Chris Albright ’78); Jack McInerney (Antoine Hoppenot ’71)
Unused substitutes: Chris Konopka, Zach Pfeffer, Roger Torres, Chandler Hoffman

Chicago Fire
Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Dan Gargan (Alex ’77); Patrick Nyarko, Logan Pause (Dominic Oduro ’46), Daniel Paladini, Alvaro Fernandez (Guillermo Franco ‘63); Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald
Unused substitutes: Paolo Tornaghi, Wells Thompson, Corben Bone, Michael Videira

Scoring Summary
7 – PHI: McInerney (Cruz)
67 – PHI: Gomez (McInerney)
69 – CHI: Oduro
87 – PHI: Hoppenot (Farfan)

Discipline Summary
18 – PHI: Lahoud (caution)
45 – CHI: Berry (caution)
78 – PHI: Williams (caution)
79 – CHI: Franco (ejection)

Referee
Abiodun Okulaja

Attendance
16,375

25 Comments

  1. A team effort, not without some scary moments. It was great to see the team finish their chances.

  2. Chicago needs its own stadium. If tre were actually 16,000 peple there it look pitiful against the vastness of the field.

  3. frankswild says:

    I hope Cruz didn’t break any bones

  4. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    Jack Mac is going to be so good, I hope there isn’t a repeat of the 10-11 offseason where Nowak buried a promising looking Mwanga under the cob webbed legs of a new, unnecessary signing.

    • Philly Cheese says:

      Totally agree. Nothing wrong with looking for the “high profile striker” but not at expense of limiting minutes for Jack Mac, Hoppenot, and Hoffman becoming solid performers up front. Two forward attack is absolutely necessary to keep pressure on opponents defense. Although counter attack worked at end, the air was taken out of attack in middle when no one ran at goal in middle of game. Almost felt like they were going to be satisfied with one goal for long period of time. Kudos for finishing in Chicago, but not sure that will be consistent result without more pressure on goal.

    • still need a proven striker. A young player gets hot and the Union starts to think he will be good enough and decides to cheap out. Zac looked good replacing an injured Mondragon and they thought they could get by with just Zac. I fear a couple of good games will make the union think they can get by.

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        Luckily for both sides, it has worked out that while we do need a proven striker, he can slot into the currently non-existant second striker role next to Jack. Back in the day, we had Le Toux eating up 90 minutes a game as well which put Mwanga on the bench and killed his development.
        This time it seems ready made to bring in a proven threat to pair with the young talent – with ample room to rotate Hop and Hoffman and even Martinez in and out – without repeating the same mistakes as Nowak.

      • too many young strikers. One has to go, especially when you consider at some point Zach Pfeffer has to get on the field.

        One proven big target up front and maybe a depth vet on the bench for when everything goes to hell.

        And I guess Martinez is the odd man out.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Hoffman will be here obviously because of the GA. Jack has proved himself, Antoine has proved himself, Martinez has not. Obvious call.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        And I don’t mean “proved himself” in the sense of being a world-beater, or even close to the finished product. Both players have shown the effort and ability to score goals and affect games in MLS. Martinez has shown that he can miss passes, clip ankles behind the play and almost get strangled by Bobby Boswell.

      • Martinez is unquestionably the odd man out. He has not shown remotely enough to merit more opportunity. I’ll be shocked if he’s with the team next year.

        I hope this team gets back to playing a 4-4-2, with Jack Mac and “proven striker to be named later” up top, Hoppenot as supersub, and plenty of minutes left for Chandler Hoffman when somebody’s injured/suspended/exhausted.

      • The way the Union forwards play there will be suspensions.

      • Works for me, but let’s say my faith in the front office to actually get the additional personnel this team needs (in this case, an experienced striker) is lacking.

        Either way, GREAT win last night. Really satisfying.

      • “Proved himself”
        “Proven striker”

        Good grammar! Both past participles of “to prove” in the same thread, and used properly at that!
        Who says Americans can’t talk good English?!?
        Way to go, PSP!!!

  5. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Was shaking my head when Gomez was subbed in and then he delivered what might be the best purely struck Union goal of the season. Nice to see a Union player smash the ball rather than take a couple of touches. Question: how much time do you think the guys practice those lovely backheeled goals? Adu, Mac, and now Hoppenot – each one was different and beautiful in its own way. When was the last time a MLS team had three of those in a season?

  6. James Korman says:

    Great win…Loved it…!!!

    My big question is how are they going to solve the backline puzzle next year? Inside you have Valdes, Okugo, and a healthy Soumare. Who sits?

    Then you’ve got 2 right backs in Williams and Gaddis. Williams on the left side seems like a waste of his skills but Gaddis has to play and he is clearly a righty.

    I hope to hell we are not thinking about selling Valdes in orderr to subsidize our “yet to be identified” veteran striker.

  7. Pingback: Union vs Fire quick reference

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