The Philadelphia Union entered Saturday’s game against D.C. United with only three goals in six games but were able to push past their offensive struggles for an afternoon and finally give the home fans something to cheer about with a much needed 3-2 win.
“We definitely needed to get three points tonight, or today, and I needed to score the goal or create a chance or something because I felt like it’s not enough,” said Bořek Dočkal, whose first MLS goal held up as the game-winning tally in the 72nd minute. “Because in the last three or four games, we struggled to score goals.”
Philadelphia outshot D.C. United 14-1 in the first half and 23-4 overall after only taking nine shots in their previous game, a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas, on April 21.
CJ Sapong, who led the team with 16 goals last season, found the back of the net off a header in the 60th minute for just his second tally this season and first since the season opener.
“There’s a lot of relief, obviously, but I think we knew we were capable of this,” Sapong said. “It was just about executing and for once things going our way.”
The Union’s plan of attack was to go at United’s left side, according to Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin. D.C. started the game in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Joseph Mora making just his fifth career start at left back.
Philadelphia scored its first goal of the game through that left side of the D.C. defense. Defender Keegan Rosenberry connected with Ilsinho, who made his first start of the season, leading to a goal in the 37th minute that took a deflection off D.C. United defender Frédéric Brillant. Ilsinho earned the start in place of Fafà Picault, who missed a day of training with a knock earlier in the week.
“Ilsinho is an experienced player,” midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “He knows when to make his action and when not to, and I think sometimes we need that. Most of the time, we want to attack so fast and then we lose the ball, then we need to track it back.”
Curtin said the Union’s attack was a little more balanced in the second half than in the first. D.C. made adjustments after the first 45 minutes, moving midfielder Zoltán Stieber, who scored the first goal of the game in the seventh minute and later added an assist, to the left.
“In a game like that, that I thought we dominated for the most part, it would have been very disappointing to come away with just a tie,” Curtin said. “This locker room has stuck together through a tough beginning to the season and each player has each other’s back, something which showed through today on the field. They didn’t waiver, didn’t get high or too low and stuck together. But yes, getting that goal and three points definitely has everyone with a smile on their faces as we prepare for a big road trip coming up.”
Despite having a 61.1 percent possession mark and taking more shots by a large margin, Philadelphia still had to fend off D.C. late.
“We could still pull the trigger maybe a couple of times earlier, but still fine-tuning those moments when to pass, when to dribble, when to shoot and getting those 100 percent,” Curtin said. “We’re still not there yet, but a lot of positive signs I thought tonight.”