Despite getting thoroughly outplayed by the Chicago Fire for almost the entire 90 minutes, the Philadelphia Union still somehow managed to pick up a 1-0 win on the road against thanks to a brilliant performance from Zac MacMath and a moment of magic from Sebastien Le Toux and Jack McInerney.
John Hackworth once again went with the ineffective midfield combination of Michael Farfan, Danny Cruz, Brian Carroll, and Keon Daniel and as a result, the Chicago Fire controlled most of the first half, taking advantage of the weak Union midfield. Once again ignoring Kleberson and Roger Torres, Hackworth went with a midfield that provided no-link up play with the strikers while also providing inadequate coverage defensively. It is therefore no surprise that the Fire were able to take advantage and control the first half.
Bakary Soumare appeared a bit out of shape during the first half, however, him along with the rest of the makeshift Union back line missing Sheanon Williams to red card and Jeff Parke to injury held up just fine to start.
Zac MacMath had an outstanding first half for the Philadelphia Union. Often a weak link on the Union, MacMath proved vital in the first half of tonight's match, making two vital saves. The first an instinctive, if admittedly a tad lucky, leg save that came about after a scramble in the box resulted in Dan Paladini alone in the box in front of MacMath. The second came on a breakthrough where the Fire were oddly hesitant to shoot at first, but eventually they pulled it back to Joel Lindpere who fired one off but MacMath was there to greet it with an excellent diving save. This was the Zac MacMath the Union dreamed of when he was a first round draft selection.
The start of the second half would see much the same as the first half. The Chicago Fire dominated the midfield and the run of play, but were unable to capitalize on their chances on goal, including a Dilly Duka shot that deflected off Amobi Okugo but MacMath was still able to grab. The Chicago Fire continued to control the run of play, the Chicago Fire continued to take advantage of a weak Union midfield, and the Chicago Fire continued to either miss the goal or get stopped by MacMath.
After scoring two goals last weekend against Seattle, Danny Cruz was once again his usual ineffective self and was subbed out for Sebasiten Le Toux in the 56th minute, a substitution that would prove vital to the final outcome.
Raymon Gaddis got away with a fouling Patrick Nyarko on a breakaway in the 69th minute and this allowed MacMath to come up and scoop up the ball to prevent any further damage. In yet another missed chance for Chicago, a very nice diagonal ball from Paladini found Chris Rolfe who deftly got past Gaddis placing a cross just out of the reach of Nyarko.
The Union would make the Fire pay for their missed chances in the 75th minute. A quick free kick from Le Toux found a streaking McInerney who had beaten a sleeping Jalil Anibaba. McInerney made no mistake sliding the ball past Sean Johnson and the Union would have a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.
The Fire did end up threatening, though. Quincy Amerikwa came on as a substitute in the 84th minute and did his best to try and shake up the game. After being on the receiving end of a fair challenge from Soumare in the box, Amerikwa took a nice dive to try and draw a penalty. This angered Soumare who in a moment of madness went after Amerikwa behind the official's back. Soumare definitely should not have done that and was quite fortunate have not been spotted by the official.
The Fire's last opportunity came in the final minute of stoppage time when Amerikwa unleashed a howitzer from the perimeter of the box but MacMath was up to the task on what might have been his best save in an afternoon where he made many big saves.
I've been very critical of Zac MacMath's performance and sloppy, over-aggressive tendencies as Union goalkeeper, but holy cow did he ever have a coming out party this afternoon. MacMath was absolutely brilliant today and the only reason the Philadelphia Union had a chance to win. If MacMath can keep playing like this, the Union will be in very good shape behind the back line. That was an outstanding performance from the young goalkeeper.
On the other side, the Union were absolutely fortunate to come away with a win today. Hackworth's tactics sucked again, the Union got dominated by a bad team, and the Union did not deserve a draw this afternoon let alone a full three points. Kleberson and Roger Torres, two guys who could help the Union solve their midfield woes unnecessarily spent the entire 90 minutes on the bench again. The Union may be in 5th place and in line for a playoff spot at the current moment, but unless Hackworth starts changing things around, the Union will not stay there and McInerney's amazing season will be all for naught.