CHESTER, Pa. — Led by an offensive explosion from C.J. Sapong, the Union rode the early lead and man advantage to easily defeat the Columbus Crew, 3-0, on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
“One of our hopes is to be in the playoffs and our home games are most important,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Hopefully this gets some momentum going. I told them it was imperative that we win this game.”
Avenging last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to the Crew, who are now 10-11-1, the Union snapped a two-game losing streak to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. Five points behind the Crew for the final playoff spot, the Union desperately needed a positive result to move to 7-9-5 on the season.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I think the guys really responded tonight.”
John McCarthy completed the two-save shutout.
That desperation was on display early as the Union capitalized off some in-box confusion and an impressive pass from Sapong in the 20th minute. Jumping on an errant clear by the Crew, Sapong completed a bicycle kick centering pass to Ilsinho, who placed his rocket shot past Downingtown, Pennsylvania, native Zack Steffen for the 1-0 Union lead.
The match drastically changed in the Union’s favor in the 35th minute.
Causing a Justin Meram turnover in the defensive zone, Haris Medunjanin played the ball ahead to Ilsinho, who skillfully found Roland Alberg streaking down the right side. With his head up and the defense outnumbered, the midfielder played a perfect lead pass that broke Sapong in alone on goal. But Sapong was immediately hauled down from behind by Jonathan Mensah to earn the Crew player a straight red card and the Union a penalty kick.
Crew manager Gregg Berhalter was not happy with the call.
“We’re putting the result away,” he said. “I already told the guys after the game, we didn’t get beat by Philadelphia tonight, we got beat by the three men in red. We’re OK. We’ll regroup. We’re gonna be fine. The morale’s gonna be fine.”
Yet, the Union were unable to capitalize right away. Alberg and Sapong were caught in a heated conversation over who takes the shot with Alberg eventually lining up, despite a strong protest from his teammate. The gamble wouldn’t pay off for Alberg as his shot found the hands of Steffen and the crossbar to stay out.
“I had the ball and was thinking I was going to score today,” Alberg said. “I missed, but last year and this year, I took a lot of PKs and didn’t miss. It was a chance for me to score but sometimes it happens and you miss. It’s unlucky, but the most important thing is three points today.”
Playing a type of half-court offense as a result of total possession, the Union pressed for the second goal. But it took until the 66th minute for them to get it. Off a lofted pass from Giliano Wijnaldum, Sapong headed the ball off the right post and back to himself for the unconventional goal and 2-0 Union advantage.
It was Sapong’s career-high 10th goal of the season.
“I think in the moment it meant more for me than I would’ve thought,” Sapong said of his 10th. “It’s always good to break any barriers. But again, that’s still just a stat. I want to continue to keep helping my team. This next half of the season, I need to keep performing and producing to help my team.”
Things unraveled further for the Crew in the 76th minute when Lalas Abubakar received a straight red for what referee Ismail Elfath deemed violent contact in a collision with Ilsinho. With room to run, Marcus Epps scored his first MLS goal in the 81st minute off a pass from Sapong and Ilsinho. The rookie finished with eight shots on goal.
“I was getting frustrated for a minute but my mindset from the beginning of the game was to get shots off and be aggressive,” Epps said. “So I’m just happy one of them went in the net.”