By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — For more than 80 minutes, the first-ever meeting between the Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact left something to be desired. But in the last 15 minutes, that all changed.
Philadelphia took the lead in the 82nd minute when Lionard Pajoy pounced on a loose ball in the box, only for Montreal to answer moments later when the Union fell asleep on a corner kick and conceded an own goal. Then, in stoppage time, Sheanon Williams found Carlos Valdes with a long throw-in and the Union captain beat Impact goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to give the Union a 2-1 win.
After more than an hour of uneventful, sloppy soccer that saw Freddy Adu leave injured at halftime and the two goalkeepers combine for six saves, Pajoy's goal opened the game up and after a flurry of late action, Philadelphia emerged to pick up three valuable points from the team directly above them in the standings.
"I can’t say enough about that result," said Union coach John Hackworth. "The fans certainly got their money’s worth tonight, and seeing a game, and two teams, full credit to Jesse Marsch and Montreal, because I thought they were really good tonight. In fact, I thought they were much better than we were in the first half, but we responded at half time. We came out and controlled the tempo a little more, knocked the ball around, made them really work hard, created some chances for us."
The Union were without playmaker Michael Farfan on Saturday night, as he picked up a knock in training during the week. Adu, meanwhile, didn't play particularly well in the first half, and had to leave at halftime. That led to a serious lack of creativity for Philadelphia.
Montreal, meanwhile, played better in the first half. In the 35th minute, Marco Di Vaio got in behind the Union defense but goalkeeper Zac MacMath was there to make the save. Two minutes later, Impact midfielder Justin Mapp found Felipe in the box, only for his header to clang off the crossbar.
It was more of the same in the second half as neither team could unlock the other's defense. It wasn't until Pajoy's breakthrough in the 82nd minute that things got interesting, and the Union eventually came out on top.
"The character and the strength of these guys, they’re amazing," Hackworth said. "They really are. I can’t say enough. I think, even the guys sitting on the bench behind me were like 'we’re going to win this game. We’re still going to win this game.' I think that is something that is pretty special in this team right now."
Montreal was left without anything to show for a decent performance, one that may have yielded a draw or even a win if the ball had bounced a few yards their way. The team showed resilience in responding after conceding Pajoy's goal, but the Union still managed to take all three points in the end.
"I think that our team was organized and disciplined and you know it was humid here," said Impact coach Jesse Marsch. "We managed to keep the game tight and first half, second half we had chances. We had the better chances of the game. So you know the way we lose this game it leaves you speechless. It leaves you unable to describe, because it’s happened too many times.
"There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Marsch said. "Unfortunately, that’s been the message all year, and we can’t just figure out how to take performances and turn them into results. I've said that for about three months now."
Philadelphia has now won three league games in a row for the first time in the team's three-year history. They now sit just one point behind Montreal for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but the Impact have played four more games. And the Union sit only two points behind the New England Revolution and Colombus Crew, who each lost on Saturday.
"I think it’s massive, and when you can do that it really changes the balance of things. You know, you get three points back in the standings but you take away three points from the opponent, who’s battling the whole time. We have a couple games in hand over Montreal. You have to keep plugging away and making sure we go after those points."
Montreal will return to action quickly, hosting New England on Wednesday. The Union, meanwhile, will host Aston Villa in an international friendly on Wednesday before traveling to face fierce rivals New York on Saturday.