Union earn first-ever playoff berth with draw



CHESTER, Pa. -- It wasnt the way they imagined it, but with the 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on Saturday at PPL Park, for the first time since their inception, the Union have officially qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

I believe that its a great day for this team, said coach Peter Nowak, shrugging away the idea that getting in on a tie is less than ideal. The hard work and everything this team put in paid off. Its a great day for our franchise.

Coming into the contest, the second-year Union needed just one point or a loss by the New York Red Bulls to make the 10-team playoff tournament. They received both, as the Red Bulls, which the Union face on Thursday in the regular season finale, were defeated by Sporting Kansas City.

Although the draw was brushed under the celebration of the playoff berth, backing into the post season with an uninspired effort is not something the team wanted to do against 3-13-14 Toronto.

We all wish to win the game," Nowak said. "But we have to accept it."

The sloppy and unfocused opening half for the Union, now 11-7-15, turned completely around in the 43rd minute when Torontos Ty Harden turned the ball over to Justin Mapp deep in his own end. Mapp took three steps and dished to an uncovered Le Toux at the top of the box, who gathered the ball and ripped a right-footed shot that beat Milos Kocic to the right side for the 1-0 Union lead.

The goal was Le Touxs team-leading 11th of the season. It was his 10th goal in his last 11 games.

In the beginning of the game we were playing up high, me, Justin Mapp, Veljko Paunovic and Freddy Adu, Le Toux said. We knew we could get opportunities. Justin got the ball and played it fast. I saw the space and took my chance at the far post.

Le Toux was surprised that he was that open.

Im running a lot and sometimes they follow me but sometimes they dont, the Frenchman said of the defense. I was surprised to have the time and space, it was one of the rare times I could take a clean shot.

However, the one-goal lead wouldnt last. In the 57th minute, with a sudden flurry, Toronto locked the contest from a bad angle shot. Toronto striker Nick Soolsma, located deep in Union territory but outside the box, fired a low and hard pass in the direction of Ryan Johnson fighting off his defender in the crease. Johnson was able to get a foot on the pass which redirected the ball through Faryd Mondragon and in.

It was Mondragons first start since his finger injury in early September.

There were certain moments that they werent sure theyd make the playoffs or not, Nowak said. I think they were scared to win a little bit. Its a good lesson before the playoffs that they need to always bring the right mentality and right approach to the game."

Veteran midfielder Paunovic nearly gave the Union back the lead in the 68th minute, when he magically corralled an overhead loft pass from Gabriel Farfan in the Toronto box and with one touch sharply kicked it on frame, forcing Kocic to make the leaping save.

Looking to push the offense, Nowak subbed Adu for Jack McInerney in the 63rd minute and Danny Mwanga for Paunovic in the 72nd minute. Coming off injury, it was Mwangas first game action since Sept. 17. Nowak rounded out his offensive subs by bringing in Roger Torres for Mapp in the 76th minute.

But despite pushing the pace, the Union were unable to capitalize.

Were in the playoffs, Nowak said. And this is more important than anything else.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

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