An instant Goal of the Year candidate from Philadelphia Union striker Carlos Ruiz gave his team a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday night at PPL Park.
The wonder strike, scored by Ruiz's weaker left foot, came in the 76th minute. It gave the Union their first two-goal output in any game in the 2011 season.
Philadelphia had gone up earlier in the game when Michael Farfan drove a shot through traffic to score his first goal in Union colors in the 64th minute. But Farfan was soon responsible for Chicago's equalizer as Dominic Oduro burned him along the right wing and slotted the ball past Union goalkeeper and captain Faryd Mondragon just four minutes later.
But the Little Fish, who had seemed to disappear at times during the game, made a huge splash when the team needed it most. It was a win the team desperately needed after only getting one point out of their previous three matches. More after the break.
Just like in the team's previous match away to FC Dallas, the Union were able to generate a number of chances in the first half, but were unable to finish any of them. Ruiz, Farfan, and Carlos Valdes all had chances of the highest quality that went begging. Ruiz was stopped stone cold by Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway in the 37th minute. Farfan just nearly missed a curling low shot that missed inches wide of the post. And Valdes unleashed a snap header that hit the top of the bar and went over the goal.
Chicago created a few chances as well in the first half, but most of them came off of counter-attacking plays and none were as close as the Union's. Philly ended the half with five shots to Chicago's two.
The second half heated up even more as each team moved closer to scoring a goal. Sebastien Le Toux hit the post early in the half.
Then, in the 64th minute, the Union finally got their breakthrough when the team ran what appeared to be a designed play off of a free kick. Michael Farfan was given space to unleash a shot and it found its way through traffic and past Conway, possibly taking a deflection along the way.
Farfan quickly went from hero to villain, though. Four minutes later Oduro got past Farfan and scored an equalizer, perhaps exorcising past demons that haunted him against the Union during his time with the Houston Dynamo.
Gaston Puerari nearly put the Fire ahead in the 71st minute, but the ball was heroically cleared off the line by Union defender Sheanon Williams.
That was when Ruiz got his chance. Philadelphia earned a free kick on the right side of the field, just outside the penalty area; it was a similar area to where Ruiz scored against Seattle on April 16. This time, Ruiz missed the free kick attempt poorly, but regained the ball out of the air, brought it down calmly and unleashed a wicked volley with his weaker left foot. The ball sailed over Conway and dipped down, bouncing into the goal off the bottom of the crossbar.
It was the first time the Union had scored two goals in a single game this season, and they were determined to not let that go to waste as they defended valiantly and closed out the 2-1 win. Ruiz, who in all likelihood will miss lots of time in June due to service with Guatemala in the Gold Cup, came out as the hero of the match, but in reality the whole team seemed to have a new sense of togetherness in attack that had been sorely lacking.
The result left the team in first place in the Eastern Conference as they passed the New York Red Bulls, who tied Houston 2-2 on Saturday night. The Union have 17 points from 10 games, while New York has 16 from 10.
Philly now heads out on a two game road trip. First, they travel to BMO Field to take on Toronto next Saturday before playing defending champion Colorado the following week at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Union return home June 11 to host Real Salt Lake.
Here are the full match highlights: