Union strikes for a late MLS victory

Jack McInerney goes over a fence and into the crowd after scoring the winning goal. Freddy Adu (below) is called for a foul after running into Revs goalie Matt Reis. PHOTOS: RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Jack McInerney goes over a fence and into the crowd after scoring the winning goal. Freddy Adu (below) is called for a foul after running into Revs goalie Matt Reis. PHOTOS: RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 31, 2012

FOR FANS who left PPL Park before the 58th minute of play, or those at home who changed the channel, you cheated yourself.

It would have been excusable to check out of Sunday's contest between the Union and Eastern Conference foe New England early. There have been presidential debates and "This Old House" episodes more exciting than the action that preceded the late stages of the Union's 2-1 win over the Revolution.

Jack McInerney played the role of hero, scoring on a perfect cross to the back post from Sheanon Williams in the 89th minute. McInerney headed the floater into the far post of New England goalkeeper Matt Reis, sending the announced crowd of 18,598 into a frenzy. With the win, the Union (7-10-2, 23 points) improved to 3-0-2 all-time against New England (6-10-5, 23).

"Just the adrenaline and for the team to get three points, that's what it's all about because from now on every game is like a playoff game for us," said McInerney, reflecting on the win and his game-winner. "It got out wide to Sheanon and we talked all week about getting people in the box and making runs. He played a good ball back-post, and I just got up and headed it down, like you are supposed to."

For some reason, with the smallest team in MLS, the Union for 45-plus minutes thought playing long balls behind the defense made more sense than keeping the ball on the pitch and playing angles and balls into space. By doing the latter, the Union could have appropriately exposed New England's porous defense.

"At halftime, I asked the question, ‘Why are we doing that?'?" coach John Hackworth said of his team's decision to launch long balls. "Part of it was New England deserving a lot of credit for that because they packed that midfield and there was no space to play balls through the midfield; we were impatient and we were down a goal so we were trying to rush. We just need to trust in the things that we do well and continue to do that and grind each match out."

The Revs struck first in the 12th minute, as forward Saer Sene took a touch and belted a 30-yard rocket that dipped at the last minute over the head and outstretched hands of Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The goal was Sene's team-leading ninth of the season. The Union caught a break in the 58th minute when a streaking McInerney was taken down from behind just inside the box. Freddy Adu, who missed the last two matches, the latter due to an unspecified "team matter," stepped up and pounded the equalizer to the upper right corner. It was the first start for Adu.

"I mean, it just feels good to be out on the field," Adu said. "I know there's all this speculation going on, but none of that fazes me. I'm always great with my teammates, always great with my coaches and just glad to be out there and be able to help my team win, because we needed the points. We got it done."

After Adu's third goal of the season, what followed was a physically intense match that featured plenty of chances for both teams. A chance to go ahead was impeded in the 86th when a handball in the box from New England's Darrius Barnes went unseen by referee Edvin Jurisevic, whose sight was impeded by a flurry in front of the goal.

"It was wild; I mean, everyone saw it was a handball," said Union midfielder Michael Farfan. "But we didn't let it get us down and we fought through it. We have to have that mind-set if we plan to continue on this run."

Fortunately for the Union, it didn't matter. McInerney scored his fourth goal in MLS play since being let out of the doghouse with the exodus of former boss Peter Nowak. The preceding 58 minutes were an exercise in frustration, but the last 32 minutes-plus showed the brand of soccer fans pay good money to see.

The Union now prepares for a trip to Montreal for a Saturday night showdown with the Impact. Montreal (along with New England and the Western Conference's Chivas USA) has never beaten the Union.

"From now on, every game is a playoff game for us," McInerney said. "This season is a long way from over and we are approaching it that way. I know this sounds corny, but it really is one game at a time for us. I am just glad we were able to grind this one out and get a win."

And put on one heck of a show for the supporters who also decided to grind it out.

Contact Kerith Gabriel at gabrielk@phillynews.com.