CHESTER, Pa. -- With impeccable defensive play not seen since their early season success and the continued red-hot support from striker Sebastien Le Toux, the Union broke their eight-game winless streak in a big way on Saturday night, defeating Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew, 1-0, at PPL Park.
We came back to the mentality we had in the beginning of the season, said coach Peter Nowak. It was a tough two months and I think we broke the curse. We were waiting for awhile. These guys fully deserve to get those three points.
We played a full 90-minutes of a high-intensity game and we beat the leaders. Thats a positive sign heading into the future.
With a 9-7-12 record, the victory pushes the previously snake-bitten Union just two points behind the Crew and one point behind Sporting Kansas City for the conference lead.
Its a good sign for the group in a sense that after some very difficult months, now we have a win, Nowak said. If you work hard, you get chances and if you finish your chances, you will win the game. We make our own destiny. It wont be easy, but weve been fighting through it and the reward came this evening.
Following multiple failed tries to get their lone striker Le Toux open alone in the offensive third, the Union finally capitalized on their attempts in the 32nd minute. From the mid-line, Roger Torres played a ball over softly the top that planted between a streaking Le Toux and goalie William Hester. Opting to not aggressively play the ball, Hester erroneously backpeddled toward his net, allowing Le Toux to grab the loose ball and fire the low liner into the back of the goal, giving the Union the 1-0 lead.
Roger gave me a perfect pass and I just had to finish with a good run, Le Toux said. To come here with a win against Columbus and get as close as two points of them with one game in hand, its good for our confidence but we need to rest and get ready for Kansas City on Friday.
The goal was Le Touxs team-high seventh of the season and third in last three games.
I wanted to really show that I can play up front and score goals like I used to, Le Toux said.
Fielding a roster that averaged just a little over 23-years-old, the Union went back to their roots to find the three points. Even while starting 16-year-old Upper Dublin-native Zach Pfeffer for the first time all season and bringing in newcomer Morgan Langley late in the second half, the Union rode stout defense-first play for the win.
Nowaks instinct to implant the youngsters in one of the most important games of the season paid off.
You have to start this way, Nowak said. We told the players that every guy deserves an opportunity. The idea was in my head from long ago to try something different. You can see in practice that these guys are trying very hard.
Pfeffer, one of the youngest players ever to sign in the MLS at 15 this past winter, had an excellent debut despite not knowing of his start until just prior to the game.
It was exciting and I had some nerves, but I think its good to have some nerves because that means you care about the game, Pfeffer said, describing his emotions after seeing the roster. But once I step on the field it was how it always is -- you enjoy playing and do what you have to do.
I thought I did well. Im not satisfied though, Im going to continue to build off of this and hopefully get in some more games.
After gaining the lead, the Union continued to pressure while also strangling the offensive life out of the limping Crew, missing starters Emmanuel Ekpo, Chad Marshall, Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renteria. With solid play from rookie goaltender Zac MacMath, who started his third consecutive game for injured captain Faryd Mondragon and earned his second shutout in as many games, the Union gave up a limited amount of chances and just one shot on frame, helping ensure the win.
The back line did very well and Columbus wasnt able to create too much, Nowak said. Its a good sign for the defense to put up the shutout last week against Portland Timbers and do the same this week. Its good for Zac MacMath and its good for the back line.
E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com