It's a feeling that had been missing inside the bowels of PPL Park for more 2 months. Players high-fived, cracked jokes, wore bow ties and earned interim boss John Hackworth his first win as Union manager in grand style.
"It feels good to win, man. It just feels so good to finally come out, play our game and get a big win," said midfielder Freddy Adu. "It's huge, everyone brought it … we knew we had to stay tuned in on restarts and we did all of that. I am just so proud of the guys in this locker room. We played this way against [D.C. United] and were very disappointed not to come away with points. And today, we just didn't want a let down. It's a great feeling."
Curmudgeons could argue that Sporting Kansas City came to Chester with tired legs following a West Coast jaunt to Seattle last Wednesday. SKC battled the Sounders to a 1-1 result, and against the Union, SKC looked sluggish from the outset, primarily on the counterattack.
But kudos to the Union for sensing this and pouncing like a cheetah on a zebra just 2 minutes in, when Jack McInerney, a pariah for much of the season under former coach Peter Nowak, scored the first of his two goals on the night, capitalizing on deflections in the box both times. And while the Union went on to roll SKC in the second half, McInerney essentially put the game to bed by halftime, scoring on another poacher just before the break.
"It felt like the pressure was finally off me; I mean, yeah, we still had 90 minutes to play, but to get my first goal of the season like that was good for the team, too," said McInerney. "We have had a lot of problems scoring goals, so to get one in the second minute was a great feeling.
“I think things are just starting to turn our way. We are getting a bounce here and a bounce there and we are finishing our chances. We had a good week of training and we are riding on a different mentality. We just said to ourselves no matter how the games go, we have to find a way to win. Like D.C. did against us, we need to do that to other teams."
What looked considerably better was fitness, which one could ascertain derives from running 10-milers in 90-degree heat under the Nowak regime. Criminal, maybe, but it proved effective as the Union essentially outworked a much bigger, stronger SKC side. Runs off the ball in the final third were aplenty, and though Hackworth is still using Nowak's mindset of attacking from the back and using the outside backs to push high (as evidence by McInerney's first goal, which arrived off an initial ball into the box from right back Raymon Gaddis), the runs seemed more purposeful and well-timed.
In fact, there was no real drastic change, just cleaner play. SKC held edge in possession (60 percent) and shot attempts (16), but for the first time in almost 2 months, the Union captured the most important statistic — points.
The Union now plays its next matches on short rest as minor league affiliate Harrisburg comes to PPL Park on Tuesday (7:30 p.m.) in quarterfinal action of the U.S. Open Cup. On Friday, the Union travels to Houston for a Saturday night clash against the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Arena (8:30 p.m., The Comcast Network). With a win over Harrisburg, the Union would play the winner of Sporting Kansas City and the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL Pro in the Open semifinal round at PPL Park on either July 10 or 11.
"This was a great team effort all the way around. There are guys that can take things from this [Sporting Kansas City] game in terms of building confidence, but this game was won by a team effort," said Hackworth. "I am not going to get too high or too low because there is a lot of soccer left to play, but this was a good win by our boys tonight and they deserve every minute of it." n
Contact Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com