Saturday, April 30, 2011
Posted: 6:14 p.m. Updated: 8:16 p.m.
By Ryan Bright
CHESTER, Pa. -- Down a man, thanks to a first-half red card to Jordan Harvey, the Union easily could have sat on the one-point and tie or even worse, crumble and suffer the loss. Instead, they decided to show off their mettle at the expense of the struggling San Jose Earthquakes.
Pushing the visiting Earthquakes to their defensive limit all contest, the Union finally got on the board with a penalty kick earned by midfielder Amobi Okugo in the 76th minute. Sebastien Le Toux lined up and fired the ball high over the left-diving Jon Busch to give the Union the 1-0 lead and eventual victory, Saturday afternoon at PPL Park.
We fought like warriors, Okugo said. We fought hard and we played really well in the second half. It didnt even seem like we were down a man. The most important thing is that we got the win.
The win is their fourth of the season and the Union have banked seven of a possible nine points in their last three games and remain in a battle with the New York Red Bulls for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. It also marked the Union and goalie Faryd Mondragons fourth shutout of the season. They recorded only two in the entire 2010 season.
Its just refreshing, to be honest, said defender Danny Califf. I dont think its surprising, really. But I think we were getting there last year. Its a commitment to defending in order to keep ourselves in games.
With just 15 minutes left in the contest and the Union only fielding 10 men, 20-year-old Okugo decided to make a difference. Finding a seam down the left side of the Earthquakes box, the young prospect carried the ball between defenders and to the goal line. Looking to make a cross and while stumbling, Okugo launched the intended pass into the hands of recovering defender Jason Hernandez, earning the penalty kick on a handball.
Carlos Ruiz made a good layoff, I thought I was going to shoot it, said Okugo. There was a space down the line so I just took it down the line. Luckily, the way he slid, his arm was out.
His hand was out and it hit it, clearly
Hernandez claimed the hand ball was less than intentional.
I had a guy get through, kind of break down the defense, and I went over to try and make a tackle to block the cross. And honestly I didnt even know about it. I kind of just felt it, and the ref pointed to the spot.
While the referees gave the Union an opportunity to win in the second half, they took a chunk out of the home teams hopes in the first. In the 41st minute of a Union-heavy opening half, Earthquakes defender Chris Leitch attempted a tackle on Harvey near midfield. Unable to remove the ball, Leich, who was on the ground, became tied up at the legs with Harvey, who was still standing. Harvey high-stepped out of the tangle and out of nowhere, received a straight red card from referee Mark Geiger.
According to Peter Nowak, the card was unjustified and will be appealed to the league in hopes that Harvey will not be suspended for teams next game against the Portland Timbers on May 6.
I think everyone saw the replay, said Nowak. I think the replay created very clearly what was the case. And for me, I saw the replay I think we are going to review this and make the right decision.
Forced to play with a man-down roster, Nowak replaced Danny Mwanga with more defensive-minded midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi and Roger Torres for Michael Farfan, who made his MLS debut. Yet, the Union still managed the majority of the offense in the second half, highlighted by two corner kicks and a Ruiz and Le Toux exchange in the opposition's box that was snuffed out by the defense.
I cant praise this group enough, said Nowak. This group plays great, physically and they prepare mentally. They know that at the end of the game they have the points and go home the champions. Its a good thing and its really important for this group to overcome the obstacles that we have with the red card.
The physical contest began to get chippy in the 30th minute, after Okugo was charged a yellow card for a hard foul on on Steven Lenhart. Moments later, Mondragon, who is never short on emotion, got into a jawing match with Quakes midfielder Brandon McDonald, a confrontation that led to a pushing match between the two squads. Both players received a yellow card.
But the match didnt start out bogged down by referee interjection.
The Union began the contest looking to push the offense with both Mwanga and Torres in the lineup and midfielders Miglioranzi and Justin Mapp on the bench -- a high-powered setup typically used by Nowak late in games when his team needs to milk a goal.
And for the early going, it worked, as the Union held the majority of possession and pressure.
Coach changed up our tactics a bit with Roger Torres, Keon Daniel and Seba (Sebastien Le Toux) in front of us to try and exploit their weaknesses a little bit, said Okugo. I thought we did a fairly good job of maintaining possession and playing our game.
The Earthquakes pushed back in the 21st and 22nd minute, earning consecutive corner kicks. However, taking both, Anthony Ampaipitakwongs attempts into the Union box were both turned away with ease. Mondragon made just one save in the shutout, as the Quakes lacked sustained pressure or any good chances on goal.
E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com