Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JOEL HOOVER
CHESTER, Pa.–With a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final secured midweek, D.C. United elected to serve up a young starting lineup on their return to league play on Saturday.
In response, the Philadelphia Union served up a plethora of wide crosses, and Conor Casey was the man to benefit from them.
Casey delivered two goals to help propel the Union to an important 2-0 home win over D.C. United on Saturday night at sold-out PPL Park.
Casey struck in each half, in the 35th and 75th minutes, to take his season total to nine, and help the Union move into third place in the Eastern Conference, just behind the New York Red Bulls, who the Union face next Saturday.
“I’m really happy for (Casey)…I’ve said it all along, we’re really glad to have him,” Union manager John Hackworth said afterward, particularly praising Casey’s ability to drop deeper and open up more opportunities for the Union early in the game.
The visitors chose a very youthful starting lineup, with just James Riley exceeding the age of 25. Despite their collective inexperience, they made the first half hour a very difficult one for Philadelphia, pressing tightly in the center of the midfield and cutting out passing lanes. The Union’s best chance came five minutes in, when a cross from Sheanon Williams was turned toward goal by Jack McInerney but palmed over by Bill Hamid.
Despite a frustrating half, the Union finally got their breakthrough in the 35th minute after some strong work down the wing. Williams again found space to cross on the right, finding the head of Sebastien Le Toux in the box. His skimmed header reached Conor Casey, who slid the finish past Hamid for his eighth goal of the season. The assist was also Le Toux’s league-leading 11th of the year.
“The service has been pretty good all year and we’ve had a lot of good flank play from whoever has played out there…today was no different,” Casey said of the play of the Union’s wingers. “For a guy like myself, that’s what I live off of, so it’s been awesome.”
The goal came during a 10-minute span toward the end of the first half where the Union held 75 percent of the possession and worked several scoring opportunities. Amobi Okugo had an opportunity on a skimmed header by Casey in the box, but his header was pushed away by Hamid.
Dwayne De Rosario’s introduction in the second half for D.C. immediately brought their attack to life. His movement opened up a few chances for young Conor Doyle to shoot from distance, though they were to no avail.
“I thought (De Rosario) came in and helped and did what he does by trying to put the team on his back,” D.C. United manager Ben Olsen said of his playmaker. “In the end, we needed a little bit of luck tonight.”
It was also De Rosario who was the driving force behind United’s best chance in the 57th minute. Weaving his way through several Union defenders into the box, he was stripped of possession on the edge of the six-yard box, but the ball fell straight to Collin Martin. His shot beat Zac MacMath, but was cleared off the line by a covering Williams.
Much of the second half stayed stuck in the midfield and rose to a chippy level, as the Union picked up three yellow cards and the physicality between the two I-95 rivals began to rise.
However, it was Casey who was again on hand to profit from wide service and double the home side’s lead in the 75th minute. Fabinho, making his first start of the season at left back in place of the injured Ray Gaddis, served up a teasing cross to the back post for Casey to volley in underneath Hamid.
“(Hackworth) tells me to play my game involving defending and going forward in attack, and I think over time I’ll continue to progress in both aspects,” Fabinho said afterward through a translator. “In the second half I played a lot better and was able to get more involved.”
Casey received a deserved standing ovation late on, as he was subbed off in favor of Aaron Wheeler. The substitute had two opportunities on glancing headers, but failed to convert both of them as the Union saw out the final 15 minutes of a vital win in their push for a playoff spot.
D.C. United’s defeat came with Ben Olsen trotting out the youngest lineup in MLS, and helped establish a new MLS milestone with the MLS debut of forward Michael Seaton, who became the first player to play in MLS who was born after the league started play in 1996.
“What (the young players) are going to gain from this game is lessons and experience and all these things that young players have to go through,” Olsen said about his team. “Unfortunately, Philly was a little too much for us to handle tonight with that group, but hopefully there was some growth…they’ll be better off for this.”
United (3-16-4; 13 pts.) remain last in both the Eastern Conference and MLS, and will travel to Montreal next Saturday to face the Impact in their next league match.
The Union (10-7-7; 37 pts.) stay within two points of Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City and just a point behind the New York Red Bulls. Philadelphia will travel to Red Bull Arena for another matchup against their I-95 rivals to the north next Saturday.
Here are the match highlights: