Chester PA- The Philadelphia Union kicked off their 2018 season with a victory over 9-man New England Revolution at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester tonight by a score of 2-0. A 23rd minute red card by Revolution center back Antonio Delamea put his club down a man and set the tone for a relatively easy Union victory. Goals by Anthony Fontana and C.J. Sapong were coupled with a typical solid goalkeeping performance by Andre Blake, who begins the year with a well-deserved clean sheet.
Philadelphia’s victory was highlighted by the efforts of four debut players, all making a direct impact on the match in their first game for the club. Center back Auston Trusty robbed New England’s Juan Agudelo of an in the box scoring opportunity with a timely tackle from behind, winning the ball cleanly in the 21st minute. After mounting pressure brought on by the red card, the Union finally capitalized off the foot of Newark, Delaware native Anthony Fontana. Another debut maker, recently acquired David Accam, showed exactly why the Union traded for him in the offseason. His dangerous speed created problems for the Revolution back line the entire night. And finally Cory Burke, who entered the match in the second half, made a lovely move just outside the box before finding C.J. Sapong with a low cross that sealed the game at 2-0.
Despite Sapong ending up on the goal sheet, the striker’s performance has to be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. Sapong missed two wide open opportunities inside 6 yards in the first half, missing both well off to the right. After a 16 goal 2017 campaign, one would expect the Union’s best scoring option to bury both of those opportunities. Sapong made amends eventually with his second half goal, and also was credited with an assist on the first goal, despite just barely deflecting the ball with an attempt on goal.
It’s difficult to judge a team’s defensive performance when they’ve gone up a man so early in a match, but the Union back four did just enough to keep New England off the board, although it was a mix of structured successes and flat out breakdowns. From the 71st through the 74th minute, Teal Bunbury created multiple scoring opportunities despite his club being down to 10 players, much to the ire of Union keeper Andre Blake who did not hold back verbally while pleading with his defenders for better support. Even the nicest play on defense, Trusty’s tackle from behind, was only created because of Trusty glancing over to the linesman thinking Agudelo was offside. That split second created a breakaway chance that Trusty was lucky enough to catch up on and overcome, something that Union coach Jim Curtin pointed out after the match as a learning experience for the young player.
In the end, a win is a win and the Union will certainly enjoy starting the season off on top of the table. Last season the Union were excellent at home, and they’ve started on that path again this year. But the away games were the big issue with the club in 2017, and only time will tell if this team can string together some wins away from home, which is the change they need from last season if they want to make the playoffs in 2018.