Flashback to June 10, 2014. The Union were 3-7-6 with the second worst points per game pace in the Eastern Conference, and just fired John Hackworth. Meanwhile, Toronto FC were 6-4-1 with the greatest points per game pace in the Eastern Conference. Flash forward three months. The Union are 9-9-9 with the fourth best points per game pace in the conference and surging, while Toronto is 9-11-6, tied for 5th best in points per game, and are collapsing quickly.
This change illustrated itself perfectly over the past week in a home-and-home series between the Union and Toronto. The Union took six points out of six, outscoring Toronto 3-0 over the course of a combined 180 minutes. Wednesday night at PPL Park they won 1-0 with a second half goal, and this afternoon at BMO Field they won 2-0 with two first half goals.
The Union opted for a 4-2-3-1 counterattacking scheme with Zac MacMath as goalkeeper, Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams at fullback, Ethan White and Maurice Edu in central defense, Amobi Okugo and Vincent Nogueira in the double pivot, Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, and Sebastien Le Toux as attacking midfielders, and Conor Casey alone up top.
With the Union running without question their best possible front six, it took them only until the eighth minute to score. On the counterattack, a rough touch from Casey led to the ball coming back out to Maidana. Maidana did excellent work to pick out a run by Sheanon who dished an absolutely perfect chip to the head of Casey. Casey redirected the ball past a helpless Joe Bendik and into the net, giving the Union a 1-0 in not even 10 minutes in.
It is a lead the Union would never relinquish. Though shots remained relatively equal throughout the first half, the Union maintained a finishing touch that Toronto lacked completely. Toronto had no one capable of helping Michael Bradley throughout the game and the Union routinely were able to generate chances against Toronto's horrid backline.
The Union's second goal arrived near first half stoppage time. Taking their sixth corner of the first half, Le Toux's corner was headed back to him by Doneil Henry. Le Toux's ensuing cross then took a deflection off Mark Bloom who inadvertently sent it back to Sheanon. Williams directed the ball via his head to Wenger who used his head to direct the ball on goal. The ball may or may not have deflected off Edu or a Toronto body, but it certainly ended up in the net. After much waffling on whether or not the goal was Wenger's or Edu's, MLS credited Wenger with the goal giving him five goals and four assists since his arrival in Philadelphia this spring.*
*For an interesting comparison between Wenger and Jack McInerney since April's trade, Richard Farley wrote an interesting piece today at NBC's Pro Soccer Talk.
The second half was a little bit of a different story. The Union were not as vicious on the attack as they were in the first half, and frankly, they played like a team up 2-0 against a side providing little in the way of opposition. It was sloppy and disorganized at times at the back, but MacMath was able to put an end to any attack Toronto mustered up. In a moment that really summed up the ineptitude of Toronto today, Bradley attempted a free kick that bounced off the Union wall, back to Bradley, and Bradley immediately launched it off the bar and into the waiting arms of MacMath.
For their part, the Union did register a couple second half howitzers that Bendik turned aside. The first one came from Edu outside the box, the second came from second half substitute Pedro Ribeiro from inside the box. Without Bendik's ability, the Union could have quite easily found themselves winning 3-0 or even 4-0.
Given the fact the international break is coming to an end, expect Algerian goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi to overtake MacMath as the Union's starting goalkeeper in future games. For MacMath, that makes today a bittersweet victory. Though his save percentage is disappointingly 14th among goalkeepers with at least 1000 minutes played, there is no guarantee M'Bolhi will fare better. MacMath was at best an average MLS starting goalkeeper but at only 23-years old, there is room for improvement and if Rais is the long-term answer in Philadelphia, there is little question MacMath should be able to find work elsewhere in MLS.
With this afternoon's win the Union find themselves in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and three full points ahead of fifth place Toronto and sixth place Columbus Crew, though both Toronto and Columbus have a game in hand on the Philly squad. Still though, it is hard to believe this is the same team that began the season with the worst start in franchise history.
Up next for the Union is a Saturday afternoon nationally televised contest against their rivals to the north, New York Red Bulls. With the Red Bulls currently in seventh place, the Union could really step on New York's playoff dreams while furthering their own.