For the first time in seven years and just the second time in team history, the Philadelphia Union started the season with three points Saturday against a New England Revolution team that finished the game with only nine men.
Three new faces in the Union lineup were a big reason why.
Midfielder Anthony Fontana scored in his debut while fellow homegrown Auston Trusty made a couple key interventions to keep New England Revolution off the board in his debut and David Accam electrified the crowd in his first game playing for the good guys in Talen Energy Stadium.
“(I) came out here just ready to play and try and help the team any way I could and thankfully I was able to do that with a goal,” Fontana, an 18-year-old high school senior from Newark, Del. said after the game.
Fontana’s goal just before halftime made good on a long stretch of positive play for the Union buoyed by a 24th minute red card shown to Antonio Mlinar Delamea for denying CJ Sapong a clear goal-scoring chance when he took Sapong down near the edge of the box.
The goal-scoring play started with Haris Mendujanin finding Alejandro Bedoya with space in the box near the end line. The captain then passed the ball back toward the front of goal and CJ got a touch on it that set up Fontana perfectly for a one-time left-footed shot Revs goalkeeper Matt Turner could do nothing to stop.
While Sapong had the assist and was active drawing fouls in addition to the red card, his shooting boots were on ice in the first half as last year’s team leader in goals missed three clear cut chances to open the scoring.
“Credit to CJ Sapong too, draws the red card, probably kicking himself in the foot at halftime because he had three good looks but stuck with it,” head coach Jim Curtin said after the game.
Sapong gave the Union breathing room in the 69th minute when substitute Cory Burke made a pretty move to beat his man and set up Sapong in stride in front of goal.
Like Trusty and Fontana, Burke made his MLS debut and only took four minutes to have an influence on the score sheet. He also later drew a second yellow card on the other starting center back for the Revs Claude Dielna, who stupidly took Burke down near the edge of the box to reduce the visitors to nine men for the final four minutes.
“It’s one win, but in a lot of ways for the club it’s a big win,” Curtin said. “Obviously, great for Anthony to get the goal and Auston to play as well as he did but overall a team effort from every player on the field, all 11 players attacking, all 11 players defending.”
Off-season acquisition David Accam didn’t make it onto the score sheet in his Union debut, but he was a handful all night and was every bit the engine in the attack he promised to be when the Union made a $1.2 million deal to acquire him from the Chicago Fire.
Andre Blake, who signed a multi-year contract extension to remain with the club in the off-season also stepped up with a couple key stops. The first two came in the sixth minute when he denied Juan Agudelo from close range and blocked the follow-up. The other, a diving stop to deny Teal Bunbury would have leveled the score in the 58th minute.
The Union controlled possession 63 percent of the time and outshot New England 21-8. That it could have easily been 5-0 instead of 2-0 ended up being more of an individual concern than a team one in the end.
“A win to start off the season and three points is great, it gives us a little bit of confidence going forward,” Alejandro Bedoya said after the game. “I think our start of the game was very good. We knew wind was going to be a factor and that New England was a little bit slow in the back so we knew we could get in behind them and cause some problems and that’s what we were able to do.”
If tonight felt strange for Union fans, there’s a reason for it. It’s just the second time the Union have won a season opener and the first time since beating Houston Dynamo on the road in the 2011 season opener.