By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa.–In the ever-changing Eastern Conference playoff race, the Philadelphia Union have become the latest team to post a statement win.
A night after Sporting Kansas City made their intentions of winning the East clear with a 2-1 win over Columbus, the Union responded by defeating bitter rivals D.C. United, 3-2, at PPL Park on Thursday night.
The victory moved Philadelphia into second place in the Eastern Conference, just a point behind first-place Sporting KC with a game in hand.
Sebastien Le Toux kept his hot streak going, scoring two goals in the first fifteen minutes, to make it nine goals in eight games. He shared the spotlight on this night with rookie Michael Farfan, who set up Le Toux's second goal before delivering his own amazing game-winning goal in the second half.
Philadelphia jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on Le Toux's two goals, but D.C. did well to battle back. In the 22nd minute, Dwayne De Rosario found space on an Austin da Luz cross and scored to continue his own hot form as of late. It was his 14th goal of the year, good for the league lead in scoring. In the 30th minute, Andy Najar received an outlet pass from Bill Hamid and took the ball the length of the field before beating Zac MacMath at his near post to tie the game at two goals apiece.
After going into the locker rooms tied, Union coach Peter Nowak decided to shake things up by bringing on Justin Mapp for Amobi Okugo to start the second half. The team controlled more of the ball and in the 57th minute, Michael Farfan took matters into his own hands. He made a slalom run down the right flank and hurdled over sliding D.C. defender Ethan White before burying the ball in the back of the net to give the Union a 3-2 lead.
"I made a little run and got a lob pass from Roger (Torres). They gave me a big amount of space, so I just took a shot," Farfan said.
Even as Ben Olsen brought on Blake Brettschneider and Santino Quaranta in an attempt to equalize the game, the Union held on for the 3-2 win, which moved them into second place in the Eastern Conference. They now sit one point behind Sporting Kansas City, but the Union have a game in hand. D.C., meanwhile, remained one point behind New York for the tenth and final playoff spot.
Nowak displayed his pleasure with his team's performance in his post-match press conference. "Three points are massive in this kind of competition," he said. "The group believed from the beginning that we could win the game because the intensity was very good. The pressure was there, the spacing was very good; I think it was massive."
The win puts the Union in position to make a late run to win the Eastern Conference. After going winless in nine games, Philadelphia has now rattled off seven points in its last three games, all against other top contenders in the East.
"We talked about trying to come out fast and get an early start and get the first goal, and we accomplished that," Union midfielder Brian Carroll said. "Unfortunately we let them back in the game, but we stayed focused and we stayed together. We showed some character in pulling out the one-goal victory."
The loss put D.C.'s playoff hopes back in jeopardy after they had just recorded a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake.
"We came out on the short end, and overall we probably deserved to come out on the short end," Olsen said. "Le Toux is a handful; he causes so many issues with how busy he runs and we were naive in a lot of our defending.
"All three goals were just very schoolboy mistakes," Olsen said. "They were just bad mistakes, and they're good enough to capitalize on them."
Dwayne DeRosario scored his MLS-leading 14th goal of the season in the first half, but was forced to leave the match in the 61st minute with an injury.
"He took a knock to the knee," Olsen said of DeRosario's injury. "He wasn't 100 percent; I think he'll be okay, it was just a knock, not a sprain or ligaments. We'll just get some ice on him and get him ready for Sunday."
The game was marked by the spectacular play of rookie Michael Farfan. The North Carolina grad, who was one of the nation's best players in college but slipped to the second round in this year's SuperDraft, put on what may have been a true breakout performance. He was also very much responsible for Andy Najar's equalizing goal, but he made a point of redeeming himself in the second half.
"Obviously you don't like to make mistakes like that, so I was trying my hardest to help the team as much as I could," Farfan said after the game. He felt that once he was moved to the midfield after playing at left back, he was able to shine. "I've played there my whole life. I feel a lot more comfortable in the midfield, more settled," he said.
The Union will look to continue their three-game unbeaten run on Sunday when they travel to California to take on Chivas USA. D.C. United will look to get back into playoff position on Sunday in a crucial game in Columbus against the third-place Crew.