Taking to the road today, in a game delayed one day due to a Colorado blizzard, the Philadelphia Union picked up a road win against a Colorado Rapids squad in the midst of a rebuild. It was not always pretty, but thanks in part to a huge effort from Amobi Okugo both offensively and defensively and a nice strike from Jack McInerney in the second half, the Union were able to escape Colorado victors for the first time this season and the first time ever in franchise history against Colorado.
The pre-game stories centered around Conor Casey and Danny Mwanga, each facing their respective former team. However, these stories proved irrelevant as both players were left off the 18-man rosters.
Casey had suffered a pulled hamstring and did not travel to Colorado with the team. There are no reports that Mwanga was injured, so it appears being left off the 18 was simply a decision by the Rapids' head coach Oscar Pareja.
Lining up in a modified 4-4-2 to start with Sebastien Le Toux and Jack McInerney as strikers, the Union chose to play deep and absorb pressure from Colorado for the majority of the first half. This resulted in a first half that was quite sloppy on both ends, with the Union generating little in the way of scoring opportunities throughout the run of play.
The match started very poorly for Colorado, who lost their captain Pablo Mastroeni to injury in the 7th minute. Mastroeni had to be taken out of the match completely and was roeplaced in the match by Nick LaBrocca.
The Union would get a scare in the 18th minute when a free kick from the Rapids appeared like it might find the back of the net, but McInerney, of all people, was there to clear the ball off the line. A couple minutes later, Keon Daniel would get a free kick opportunity of his own. He successfully curled the ball past the wall, but managed to strike the outside of the woodwork causing the ball to fall harmlessly out of play.
Philadelphia put itself on the board in the 34th minute thanks to some poor defending from Colorado and a well placed header from Okugo, who made no mistake in placing the ball in the back of the net. The Union would go on to carry this lead into half time with Colorado generating little in the way of threatening chances.
Despite some puzzling tactics to start and less than exciting play, the Union could not argue with their results.
The second half ended up being a much more open and entertaining affair. The Rapids started the half by subbing out Dillon Powers for Jamie Smith, and Smith immediately livened up the home squad. While the Rapids were much more lively on offense, the Union were much more dreadful in defense, and it nearly led to a DeShorn Brown goal, but Deshorn got too fancy with it, attempting a back heal flip that would go wide.
Had he settled for a more direct strike, the Rapids may have drawn level right then and there.
The Union's first quality chance of the match featured Michael Farfan missing on a golden opportunity. Farfan had the ball play through to him and was on goal when a poor first touch on his end allowed for a shot that was much more easily saved by Matt Pickens.
If Farfan shoots it right away or takes better first touch, the Union would have been up 2-0 and might have possibly put the game out of reach for Colorado. That opportunity though did earn the Union a corner kick and it appeared Brian Carroll had connected with a header to make it 2-0, but it was rightfully called back as Carroll was clearly offside.
The Philadelphia Union's first substitution of the match saw Gabriel Farfan enter in for Daniel who had been largely ineffective this match outside of his free kick that struck the post. Despite the fact this appeared to be an attempt to sure up the defense, Rapids would draw level just six minutes later when the Union missed an opportunity at one end all-around shambolic defending at the other end led to Jamie Smith getting a wide open shot Zac MacMath had no chance at. Smith found the net, and the Rapids had pulled level at one.
Things would go from bad to worse for the Union when Sebastien Le Toux had to leave the match with an unknown injury. He would be replaced by Antoine Hoppenot, who had luck would have it, would come in handy later. However, before that, John Hackworth used his third and final sub in the most quizzical of ways bringing Michael Lahoud on for Michael Farfan. This appeared to be an attempt by Hackworth to settle for a 1-1 draw at best. While there are times when it is acceptable to play for a draw on the road, this should not have been one of those times and it had become painfully obvious as the match wore on that Danny Cruz was not being effective on the pitch. Instead of making the logical switch of Cruz for Torres, Hackworth opted for the illogical simply in hopes of preventing further damage, and even in doing that, he could have done much better than Lahoud for Farfan.
In the 79th minute, just one minute after Hackworth's unusual final substitution, Hoppenot and McInerney would bail out their manager in the greatest of ways. Thanks to a sublime throughball from Hoppenot, McInerney was in on goal and he executed a picture perfect finish to put the Union back on top with a 2-1 lead.
The Union may have been on top, but the threat from the Rapids had not yet passed. MacMath had to come off his line and brilliantly stopped what appeared like it might have been a sure fire goal from the Rapids rookie sensation Brown. In stoppage time, the Rapids would get one more chance to even the ledger when the ball dropped into the eight yard box, but Carroll was there to sweep it away before any Rapids player could inflict harm on the scoreboard.
It was not the greatest of performances, but it was a huge win on the road in strange circumstances for an improved side looking to feel good about themselves after blowing a 1-0 lead at home to Sporting Kansas City in the opener.