CJ Sapong scored his fourth goal of the season while Fafa Picault netted his sixth goal on the year as Philadelphia Union earned a 2-0 clean sheet victory at DC United Wednesday night. The win makes it five straight for Philadelphia. They now have 39 points on the year and sit comfortably in fifth place, just one point behind Columbus Crew SC.
Early in the match, Philadelphia Union made it clear they were on the prowl for three points. In the second minute, the Union earned a corner kick thanks to some intense pressure from Fafa Picault placed DC United’s back line on their heels.
That was the story for much of the first half until about the 25th minute. At that point, the heat began to take its toll on both teams and the pace slowed dramatically. However, one thing never stopped throughout the first half: Philadelphia’s crisp passing.
Each pass seemed to exude more confident than the next. And those passes began to crack DC’s defense as the match approached the half hour mark. During the 29th minute, a brilliant counter attack opportunity allowed Philadelphia to net the early goal.
Picault advanced the ball into DC’s half before he found CJ Sapong in the central channel. Sapong then sprinted directly at DC’s back line before dishing to his right where Cory Burke was streaking forward. Burke then released a well hit shot towards the far post which Bill Hamid, DC’s stellar keeper, could only get a hand on. The rebound rolled to his left where Sapong was waiting to bury it home. Philadelphia jumped out to a crucial 1-0 lead.
The eye-catching ball movement from Philadelphia continued until the end of the first half. However, the Union almost surrendered a goal of their own before the half time whistle.
During the 44th minute, DC threatened Philadelphia’s defense and almost forced a hand ball inside their own goal box. Paul Arriola chested down a diagonal pass as he entered the left side of the box with Jack Elliot marking him. Just before the ball rolled out for a goal kick, Arriola attempted a centering pass that glanced off the outstretched right arm of Elliot. Elliot’s arm was in an unnatural position and the contact should’ve warranted a DC penalty kick.
However, head referee Nima Saghafi thought Elliot did well enough to keep his arm down and decided not to award a penalty kick opportunity. Pleas for Saghafi to utilize replay were made but Saghafi wasn’t interested and Philadelphia entered half time with the 1-0 lead.
Much like the end of the first half, the second half began with another dangerous chance for DC. In the 49th minute, Wayne Rooney found the tiniest of spaces in between Elliot and Auston Trusty inside the box. Rooney was destined to shoot and score, but both Elliot and Trusty teamed up to knock the ball free enough for Andre Blake to clear the area.
Rooney’s bad luck from the first half that saw an early attempt clang of the post followed him into the second half.
Although DC managed to threaten occasionally, Philadelphia controlled the match overall. As the clock ticked past the 55th minute mark, the momentum shifted fully in Philadelphia’s favor.
A free kick opportunity in the 51st minute created a great opportunity for Keegan Rosenberry but his hard hit shot was parried away by Hamid. Just two minutes later, Philadelphia’s high pressure created a corner kick opportunity, which was fruitless. But the pressure continued to cause problems for DC who was searching for an equalizing goal.
One minute past the hour mark, Philadelphia found the coveted 2-0 lead. During the 61st minute, the passing the Union portrayed all match cashed in after Borek Dockal sprinted forward to create space for Sapong along the right-wing. Dockal dished to Sapong as he entered the right side of the box. Sapong then lifted his head to release a perfect centering pass for Picault who navigated to open space just beyond the six-yard box. Picault hit it on the first touch and his shot found the back of the net.
The 2-0 lead proved too much for DC to handle. A couple of defensive minded substitutions in the 83rd and 90th minute saw Derrick Jones and Warren Creavalle enter the match. But before the defense was bolstered, Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin threw the Brazilian play-maker Ilsinho onto the pitch to further frustrate DC.
After the second goal, DC never threatened. Picault’s goal served as the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Ben Olsen coached side. The match ended quietly as Blake earned his third consecutive shutout victory.
Philadelphia are now 4-3-1 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. To increase the hype around Curtin’s squad, the midfield trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, and Dockal are playing their best soccer to date and the team’s passing was at all-time highs tonight. The win increases the club’s current win streak to five straight as they prep for a road trip south against struggling Orlando City SC this Saturday night.
– Midfield Trio: Philadelphia’s midfield trio has quietly become one of the best midfields in MLS this season. And that shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, when you pair three highly intelligent veteran players in the same area of the pitch, great things are bound to happen. Next Union match, be sure to keep an eye on their movements both on and off the ball as they maneuver around the pitch. The passing that stems from Bedoya and Medunjanin coupled with the offensive prowess of Dockal has proven to be a difficult combination to stop in 2018.
– CJ Sapong + Cory Burke: Ever since Jim Curtin decided to start the two athletic forwards alongside each other, Philadelphia hasn’t lost. Enough said.
– Auston Trusty + Jack Elliot: There was a lot of noise surrounding Wayne Rooney as Philadelphia entered this match. And rightly so. However, the two young center backs held up well against Rooney and company tonight. Trusty continues to impress, having played every minute this season.
PHILADELPHIA UNION STARTING XI:
Andre Blake, Ray Gaddis, Auston Trusty, Jack Elliot, Keegan Rosenberry, Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin (83’ Derrick Jones), Borek Dockal (89’ Warren Creavalle), Fafa Picault, Cory Burke (72’ Ilsinho), CJ Sapong
Substitutes: John McCarthy, Mark McKenzie, Fabinho, David Accam
DC UNITED STARTING XI:
Bill Hamid, Joseph Mora, Steven Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Oniel Fisher (45’ Ulises Segura), Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse (64’ Darren Mattocks), Zoltan Stieber, Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney
Substitutes: Travis Worra, Frederic Brillant, Chris Durkin, Markes, Vytas Andriuskevicius
GOALS / ASSISTS
29’ PHI – CJ Sapong
61’ PHI – Fafa Picault (CJ Sapong, Borek Dockal)
YELLOW / RED CARDS
27’ PHI – Jack Elliot (Unsporting behavior)
57’ PHI – Borek Dockal (Unsporting behavior)
90+2′ DC – Steven Birnbaum (Unsporting behavior)
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Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.