Union Continue Home Dominance, Top NYCFC
CHESTER, Pa. (973espn.com) – The Philadelphia Union are quietly turning Talen Energy Stadium into one of Major League Soccer's most difficult places to play as the club won its franchise-record fifth straight match on the Delaware Riverfront with a 2-0 win over New York City FC.
Things shifted dramatically in a matter of moments during the first half as NYCFC (1-3-3, 6 points) went from the precipice of taking the lead to playing catchup as veteran striker Chris Pontius returned from a cut under his right eye to notch his third goal of the season.
New York, which is now winless in six consecutive matches after taking its 2016 opener, nearly went on top with a man advantage when the crossbar stopped a David Villa try from distance as the Union training staff worked feverishly on Pontius.
The veteran was finally cleared to return and on Philadelphia's next rush, Tranquillo Barnetta picked up a loose ball in the box and squared it to Pontius, who deposited it in the 26th minute.
“Yeah that was a hockey cut; you know it was a good size gash," Union coach Jim Curtin said. "As a coach you want it to be an instant thing where he is right back out on the field, but New York was coming at us pretty good at that time, so he went on once, came back off, but they couldn’t get the blood stopped, so as a coach, it's frustrating because you don’t want to take a good player off the field like Pontius.
"At the same time if it was going to be something where he is in and out and in and out we were really contemplating making a move, so Pauley (Paul Rushing) my trainer and I were having some nice words back and forth to speed it up, but he did a good job of getting him going and I am happy for Chris to get the goal. I thought he worked hard."
The hill became too much for NYCFC 15 minutes later when Philadelphia (4-3-0, 12 points) doubled its lead as the club's all-time leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux unleashed a dart that the team's current top offensive threat, C.J. Sapong, redirected past New York goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
It was Sapong's team-leading fourth maker in seven games as the Union improved to 3-0 at Talen Energy Stadium this season and have won the five consecutive dating back to September of last year.
"As a center back you do not want to play against C.J," Curtin said. "He is a pain in the butt to play against, he holds the ball very well and he is in a good spot right now, but I do think there is something to the fact that we were happy with him. We think he can be the guy who gets the 15 to 20 goals, whatever it is."
Philadelphia is now tied atop the Eastern Conference table with Montreal after the Impact fell to Toronto, also by a 2-0 score on Saturday.
New York controlled the action for most of the way, registering a 65-35 advantage in possession time and winning 54 percent of the duels on the afternoon but Union GK Andre Blake was rarely tested outside of Villa's near miss.
“I mean for sure we try to always have possession, but sometimes you play against a good team and they try always to build up from the back, so it was hard to have a lot of possession," Barnetta said. " We know that we can do a better job with the ball, but still, big teams find a way to win a game like this – and that we did tonight."
Blake, a former UConn standout, was forced to stop just one attempt on net en route to his second clean sheet of the campaign.
“It feels great," Blake said. "As I always said before, winning is more important than the shutout. Of course I’m happy with it, but I’m even more happy with the victory.”
The Union are back in action next Saturday when San Jose makes the trek across country to Talen Energy Stadium.
-John McMullen covers the Philadelphia Union for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or ton Twitter @JFMcMullen.