By JOSE M. ROMERO
CHESTER, Pa. — All of the Philadelphia Union's constant peppering of Everton's defense and goalkeeper Jan Mucha — not Tim Howard — paid off in thrilling fashion for the home team Wednesday night at PPL Park.
Union academy player Christian Hernandez was in the right place at the right time to kick in a deflected ball in the 88th minute, and the Union happily took a lap around their field at game's end following a 1-0 victory over the EPL side.
Hernandez, a midfielder recently named U.S. Soccer's U-17/18 Developmental Academy player of the year, was standing amid a flurry of activity after a shot by teammate Zach Pfeffer was blocked and the ball found its way to Hernandez. Mucha was out of position to stop Hernandez's shot, and the youngster buried his face in his hands in an emotional on-field moment as teammates congratulated him and the crowd of 18,582 went wild.
The chances came often for Philadelphia, and it cashed in on the last one. Even though the Union had a handful of players "under the drinking age," as assistant coach John Hackworth said, on the pitch at the end of the match.
"We played some good soccer and got a lot of young guys on the field in a fantastic environment," Hackworth said. "The right way to really develop some players and give them some minutes that will be huge as they progress through their careers.
"Didn't finish the way we wanted to and thought we left a lot out there, but in the end we got a goal, and 18,500 went home happy," he added.
No amount of humidity was going to stop the Sons of Ben from some razzing of Tim Howard, seeing as the Everton and U.S. national team goalkeeper was not around to see action.
"Where's Tim How-ard? On va-ca-tion!!!" the supporters chanted from right behind Mucha in the 15th minute of the match. Later, they serenaded Mucha with calls of "Your not How-ard!"
Mucha filled in capably, however, and the Toffees, with internationally-known veterans Leighton Baines, Tim Cahill and Phil Neville in the starting lineup, survived numerous scoring chances from the MLS side until the final minutes.
In truth, the Union played more inspired soccer, while Everton looked to be doing little more than getting in their preseason work.
The Union had more scoring chances in the first half, and defender Carlos Valdes was part of his share of them. He headed a throw-in wide in the sixth minute and a service in the 14th minute also went wide.
Valdes' best chance came just before the halftime whistle, as a corner kick from Keon Daniel came to Valdes for another shot that got closer but still missed. Danny Mwanga and Justin Mapp also missed quality chances for Philadelphia in the first half, both saved by Mucha.
Everton's Jermaine Beckford earned a free kick after being taken down just outside the box in the 19th minute, and Mikel Arteta's try curled off the side of the net.
Beckford was the most active Everton attacker in the first half with two good shots on goal, one in the 25th and another in the 33rd minute, before being subbed out at halftime.
The second half brought about several substitutions for both teams. Mwanga was even more of a factor in the second 45 minutes, with two turn-and-shoot chances that missed wide. The one look he had in the 72nd minute, after a pass in from Jack McInerney, was perhaps the Union's best opportunity for a goal up to that point.
Two minutes later, Everton's best chance of the match — they were limited by the Union defenders' play — came when Ross Barkley fired a shot at point-blank range that backup goalkeeper Thorne Holder deflected back into the box. The rebound shot from Apostolos Vellios was off target.
Roger Torres had six shots for the Union.
"We wanted to see our team play well against that quality of opponent," Hackworth said. "It's great to finally put one away when we feel like we deserved one."