Despite never having won a match at Stade Saputo in their franchise history and despite Didier Drogba making his MLS debut for the home side, the Philadelphia Union managed to pull off a surprising and much-needed 1-0 win Saturday night at Montreal thanks to Sebastien Le Toux's late second half goal.
With Brian Sylvestre still out of the lineup due to a hand laceration and John McCarthy being John McCarthy, Jim Curtin made the decision to start 2014 1st overall pick Andre Blake in just his second MLS match. Meanwhile on the Montreal side of things, Frank Klopas decided to begin the match with Drogba on the bench, though he ultimately did bring him on for his MLS debut in the 59th minute, replacing Dilly Duka.
The first half saw Montreal dominate possession, keeping a two-thirds to one-third edge throughout. However with that possession the Impact generated little in opportunity. The only shot on target in the first half did come from Montreal but it was a weak Duka shot that Blake was able to scoop up without any issue.
The action picked up a bit in the second half with both teams generating some more opportunities at net, and the first big chance of the half went to the Union in the 57th minute. With the ball near the intersection of the endline and the box, Tranquillo Barnetta played the ball into C.J. Sapong who was able to manage a shot attempt but instead of going in the ball rolled past the far post and out for a goal kick.
A couple minutes following Sapong's chance, the Impact decided to take off Duka and bring in Chelsea legend Didier Drogba for his first MLS appearance. Shortly after being introduced, an Impact corner kick found Drogba in the box whose volley found Johan Venegas. Venegas attempted a bicycle effort necessitating Andre Blake to guide the ball over the bar to preserve the clean sheet. For most of the match, Drogba found himself struggling to deal with the work of Fabinho who at times has really turned up his play this season and his work on Drogba was one of those times.
The Union would break through for the game's first and only goal in the 78th minute. Le Toux played the ball out wide to Sapong who sent the cross back into the box where Ayuk volleyed it toward goal. Ayuk's volley latched onto the foot of Le Toux and Seba managed to re-direct the ball into the net for his fourth goal in five games. It was a goal the Union badly needed to not only win the match but to try and make a (likely feeble) run at the playoffs in a season where the Eastern Conference has more available playoff spots than good teams.
The Impact would have a couple chances in the last few minutes of the match and stoppage time to even the scoreline, but each time they fell just short. Drogba took a 23-yard free kick that Blake could not pick up on, but fortunately for the Union Blake did not need to pick up on it as the ball flew just wide of the net. And then in the final seconds of the match, former Union midfielder Justin Mapp attempted a shot from distance outside the box. He got it on target, but Blake was there to grab the ball and secure the 1-0 win for the Union.
Despite the lack of previous in-game action, Blake played well and did what was asked of him, little as it ultimately was, to keep a clean sheet. He'll have more difficult tasks ahead no doubt should the Union continue to start him, but his first start this season was a good one and hopefully a sign of things to come going forward. And the Union will hope to continue pushing forward when the New England Revolution come to PPL Park next Saturday.