CHESTER, Pa. -- Hovering in the muddled midsection of the Eastern Conference for much of 2013, the Union saw Sunday’s contest against the New York Red Bulls as an opportunity to put themselves among the best in the East.
With a little fortune and a pair of goals from veteran Conor Casey, the Union easily defeated the Red Bulls, 3-0, at PPL Park to do just that.
“We hopefully won some respect,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “It’s just one game, so we have to keep it in perspective, but the Red Bulls are a very good team. I thought we started well and put the game on our terms.
“It’s just one game but it was a really important game. For this city, it’s big.”
The win gave the Union (7-5-4) 25 points for the season, tying them with the Red Bulls for second place in the East. The Red Bulls dropped to 7-6-4 overall.
“We talked about it all week. We wanted to beat a team above us in the rankings,” captain Brian Carroll said. “Them being such a big rival and having [won] much of this series so far, we wanted to come out and turn that around. We were able to do that tonight.”
Riding a five-game losing streak against the Red Bulls, the determined Union immediately went on the offensive.
In just the fourth minute on a fast break, Jack McInerney calmly cut inside on his defender. With space, but still far from the box, the Union’s leading scorer played a perfect ball to streaking Casey for the breakaway goal. But after seconds of celebration, the linesman called the play offsides.
It wasn’t going to stop Casey.
Just three minutes later, off a corner kick, the ball reached Keon Daniel at the top of the box. Playing it to the left, an out-of-position Sheanon Williams lofted a pass inside to Casey, who beat his man and scored the header for the early 1-0 lead.
“We came out well,” Casey said. “When we played D.C. [United] last week (in the U.S. Open Cup), we didn’t come out well. That was something we wanted to correct this week and we did.”
Fortune stayed in the Union's favor in the opening half when Lloyd Sam and Danny Cruz collided on a ball in the 28th minute. What appeared to be a questionable studs-up play for Sam resulted in a straight red card, giving the Union a man advantage.
“I slid in with my foot down, thought I could get to the ball first and thought I did,” Cruz said. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was a red card. I think the guys on my team felt the same way.”
Often critical of MLS officiating, Hackworth wouldn’t comment one way or the other on the foul.
“I thought it was a hard challenge,” he said. “I have not seen it. It does change the game, there’s no arguing that, and Danny is feeling it.”
Without Juninho to yellow-card accumulation, Tim Cahill to injury and Jamison Olave to suspension, the Red Bulls suddenly had a mighty hill to climb in the second half.
“Whatever team they put out there, that’s who we play,” Williams said. “We can’t control it. If they think they can come in and plug in their second team, now they know they can’t do that.”
Despite passing chances for Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls, the second half belonged to the Union. With mounting pressure, Casey earned the brace when he jumped on a Keon Daniel rebound to make it 2-0 Union in the 64th minute.
"As a forward, you want to score,” Casey said. “Jack [McInerney] has been putting the work in and he’s been on fire all year. It’s good for the other guys to get in and take the load off him.”
The goal was Casey’s fifth goal of the season and third in two games versus the Red Bulls in 2013.
“Today was a huge day for him,” Hackworth said. “Quality in every way. He does so many little things for our team that makes us better. I can’t say enough about him.”
Taking advantage of Red Bulls' aggressiveness, Le Toux regained the MLS assist lead in the 89th minute, when he crossed to a trailing Antoine Hoppenot for a goal to make it 3-0.
“We needed this kind of win, we needed to beat someone above us in the table,” Hackworth said. “We needed a complete game in all ways. The performance and what we did for 90-plus minutes was really important for this club. To have a young team get that experience against a quality side, it’s a big step forward for us.”