CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union can finally breathe.
With a three-goal burst in the second-half, C.J. Sapong and the Union stunned the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium, snapping the Union’s nine-match winless streak in 2017 and 16-game winless run dating back to Aug. 2016.
“You can’t put it into words,” said Sapong, whose club is now 1-4-4 on the season. “It’s been a long, hard working road for us to get this win. It’s a beautiful thing. We’re going to let this marinate, but then we still have a lot of climbing to do.”
The hat trick was the first of Sapong’s career as he moved into a tie with Houston Dynamo’s Cubo Torres for the lead league with seven goals. Andre Blake earned the four-save shutout to claim back-to-back clean sheets. The Red Bulls move to 5-5-1.
“I’ve been adamant about keeping shutouts, being better defensively and giving us a chance to win games toward the end,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Credit to the whole team. All 11 players, even guys who came in subs, playing together, sliding, shifting, doing all the hard work. C.J. does a lot up there and pays himself back with a hat trick.”
Despite holding 57.8 percent of the possession and playing generally well in the opening half, it was a vanilla stanza for both clubs. The Union, with Oguchi Onyewu in for the ill Richie Marquez and Ray Gaddis in for Keegan Rosenberry at right back, the hosts outshot the Red Bulls, 2-1 but couldn’t generate much else.
“I thought the first half was even the better half for us,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I thought we actually played great soccer with the ball, passed and made them run a little bit with the passes out of the back from the outside back to the opposite center back and made them work a lot.”
But that changed in the 63rd minute, when Curtin made two tough substitutions, subbing Rosenberry, making his first appearance in three games, for injured Gaddis, while Derrick Jones also replaced hobbled Roland Alberg at the same time.
The moves began a momentum shift for the Union that came to a head in the 74th minute. On a fast break with Alejandro Bedoya, Sapong put the game on his shoulders and fired off a shot that deflected off the leg of Aaron Long and through Luis Robles for the 1-0 Union lead.
“The defender was doing well blocking off Ale,” Sapong said. “I knew I wouldn’t have too much space to get too far wide so I figured to just take a quick touch and shoot. I’ve been a little inconsistent sometimes, I’ll get four shots one game and no shots the next day. I just tried to keep it on goal, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Sapong wasn’t finished. The forward put an exclamation point on the match in the 81st, when a ball placed across the box was headed down by Pontius and to Sapong at the top of the crease, where he easily placed it in. Sapong completed the hat trick in an 85th, capitalizing on a penalty kick to take the victory.
“I want to thank our fans, the ones that stuck with us now through this tough time,” Curtin said. “It’s difficult. Now you can see when a team has confidence, it’s pretty fun to watch. The building was loud. It was electric. And for the fans that have bailed on us, we understand and we will work hard to win you back. This is a good first step.”
“Relief,” Bedoya said. “It’s a big sigh of relief. Joy is finally back in here. It’s a good solid win against a rival. Red Bull is a good team. I think I can speak for everybody here: it’s a big weight off our shoulders. And smiles everywhere, which is good.”