It finally happened. After 252 days and 15 regular season games, the Union won in convincing fashion, 3-0, over I-95 rivals, New York Red Bulls. CJ Sapong was the hat-trick hero, scoring all three goals in quick succession.
In the 74th minute, CJ Sapong picked up Aaron Long’s failed clearance around midfield, dribbled to the top of box, and ripped a shot, which deflected off a Red Bull defender, into the back of net.
CJ Sapong gives Philly a 1-0 lead! #PHIvNY pic.twitter.com/E7VU1zNcIt— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 7, 2017
After the first goal, you could feel the collective frustration of an eight-month losing streak lift off the shoulders of the team and their fans alike.
From the goal on, the Union looked destined to take home three points for the first time in 15 matches.
Seven minutes later, the Union all but sealed that elusive first win of the season. In the 81st minute, second-half substitute Fabian Herbers found target winger Chris Pontius, who knocked it down for Sapong. All he had to do was nod it in to double the lead.
Sapong with another!!! 2-0 Philly! #PHIvNY pic.twitter.com/i0yeau0KoQ— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 7, 2017
For good measure, Sapong added his third goal off a penalty kick in the 85th minute.
Sapong completes the hat trick!!! 3-0 Philly! #PHIvNY pic.twitter.com/rZFFzC8j0S— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 7, 2017
When the whistle blew a few minutes later, the collective joy from the fans and the team was palpable.
Head Coach Jim Curtin didn’t make many changes off the back of a scoreless draw in Los Angeles. The one exception in the starting lineup was Richie Marquez, who was out with an illness. Instead of Marquez, Oguchi Onyewu got the start at center back alongside Jack Elliott.
The Union were the stronger side in the first half as the Red Bulls’ press did not have a large impact on the Union’s play out of the back.
Roland Alberg had the first goalscoring opportunity of the match in the seventh minute, but his shot was easily parried away by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.
A few minutes later, off a CJ Sapong-earned free kick, Haris Medunjanin was unable to keep his free kick below the crossbar.
However, New York had the best chance of the match to score in the 20th minute when Andre Blake made a great save from three yards out to deny Kemar Lawrence of a goal.
The Union went into the half with reasons to feel optimistic about getting a result. Philly controlled possession and held the Red Bulls to one or so chances on net.
Unlike the past few weeks, the Union came out in the second half with energy and finished strong to seal their first win in months.
"You can't put it into words, man.” CJ Sapong said after the match. “It's been a long, hard-working road for us to get this win. ... It's a beautiful thing."
While the team notched their first win of the season, Curtin did not lose focus on the big picture. "Are we completely satisfied right now and have we achieved anything outside of winning a soccer game? No.” Curtin said in his post-game press conference.
The Union will look to build on the win with three matches in their next 14 days. First, Philly will have to travel to RFK Stadium to take on D.C. United next Saturday at 7 PM.