Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By TIM FONTENAULT
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Jim Curtin’s Major League Soccer debut as head coach of the Philadelphia Union was one to remember.
Sebastien Le Toux continued his excellent form, scoring two goals in his first start since eight weeks ago, as the Union defeated the New England Revolution, 3-1 on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
Philadelphia has yet to lose since Curtin became the interim coach on June 10, winning two matches in the U.S. Open Cup before Saturday’s win in the club’s first MLS match since June 7, a 3-3 draw against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
“It’s an exciting time,” Curtin said, “but at the same time, you kind of grab it and run with it and do the best you can with the interim tag and leave the club in a better place.
“Make the playoffs, that’s the goal.”
Curtin told his team before the match that the getting through the first 15 minutes would be vital to dictating the match, and they got through, thanks to goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Diego Fagundez put a brilliant through ball into the box for Patrick Mullins, who tried to put a shot to the far post. MacMath deflected the shot right to Teal Bunbury, whose effort was stopped thanks to quick reactions for the Union keeper.
The Union finally started to get chances in the 26th minute. Maurice Edu got on the end of an aerial through ball and volleyed his shot just wide of the post. About 45 seconds later, Le Toux beat Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton, but his ground-ball effort hit the far post and bounced away.
Neither team had a great opportunity after that until a mistake in the defensive third by Jose Goncalves gave Le Toux the chance to break the deadlock. The way the Frenchman is playing at the moment, that chance was not going to be squandered.
Goncalves tried to head the ball back to Knighton from the top of the box, but he had no idea that Le Toux was running in behind him. Le Toux stuck his foot out and gently poked the ball past Knighton to give the Union the lead entering halftime.
“That’s one of those, you do it nine times, you make that hard run after Conor (Casey) flicks it, and that one that he finally did, the ball actually came to him,” Curtin said. “And I think there was a little mistake from them, but you have to assume the worst is going to happen. So it was a good play from Sebastien.”
The first 23 minutes of the second half were dull, with the two teams locked in a stalemate. Neither side was able to create much of anything, mostly swapping possession without getting a chance at goal.
Suddenly, anyone who blinked was bound to miss a goal.
It started with Danny Cruz in the 69th minute. The Union midfielder took matters into his own hands with the Union trying to extend their lead. He took the ball over midfield and had a go from 25 yards out, beating Knighton to the bottom-right corner to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
Cruz’s run was a benefit of the Revolution’s desire to send numbers forward. They left Knighton with little protection in the back, and as Cruz barreled towards goal, Casey caught the eye of the backpedalling defenders. That gave Cruz the space to find his shot.
“We mentioned at halftime – one of our assistants mentioned – kind of countering their counterattacks,” Curtin said. “So, they would counter us and they would really throw numbers aggressively, and it was just a matter of us connecting that first pass and maybe having a guy actually turn and go at them.”
Four minutes later, however, the Revolution cut into the lead through substitute Saer Sene, who had just come on after Cruz’s goal. Kelyn Rowe, another second half substitute for the hosts, beat the Union’s defenders and got MacMath to commit to stopping him. MacMath came off his line as Rowe dribbled into the 6-yard box, leaving Sene all alone in the middle to tap in Rowe’s cross.
The optimism for the Revolution, which have now lost its last three MLS matches, was short lived. Le Toux netted the dagger in the 78th minute, driving a low shot with his right foot across the goal, beating Knighton to the far corner. Le Toux had to be replaced six minutes later due to a leg injury, but he walked into the locker room under his own power with no signs of a limp after the match.
The Revolution’s one goal was its only true bright spot in the attacking third, as the Union’s back line stood tall against what has been a one of the best attacking teams in the league so far this year. Leading the way defensively for the Union on Saturday was captain Maurice Edu, who was playing as a center back despite making a career primarily as a midfielder.
Edu playing in the back moves Amobi Okugo forward into the midfield, a change that Okugo likes, he said after the match. The move allows him more touches on the ball, which is when he feels most comfortable.
As for Edu, Curtin is confident playing him anywhere, a display of confidence that could prove beneficial as the Union’s ambitious new coach sets his sights on a trip to the playoffs.
“Athletically, he can compete with anybody,” Curtin said. “Mo’s a soccer player. I’ve said it before, he can play any position on the field. He’s that gifted. He was our captain tonight, he led us. And the guys bought into him holding things together back there, and he did a good job. And he can pass out of the back, so it’s a very good thing.”