Updated 10:30 p.m.
CHESTER, Pa. -- If you asked interim manager Jim Curtin, Wednesday’s match against the New York Red Bulls was a do-or-die game, with the Union’s dimming playoff hopes at stake.
In response, the club survived.
Conor Casey started the scoring and Sebastien Le Toux finished it as the Union beat the Red Bulls, 3-1, at PPL Park.
“That’s the response I wanted,” Curtin said. “I didn’t know I would get it, but they brought it. To a man, every guy really, really brought it. Our response there was going to dictate how the rest of our season went. To grab three points tonight against an Eastern Conference opponent was big for us.”
The home win was the Union’s first since March 15 against the New England Revolution. They are now 2-2-5 at PPL Park and 5-8-7 on the season. The Red Bulls fell to 5-6-8.
“We made a statement tonight,” Curtin said. “Respect isn’t given, it’s earned and we had to grab it. We did that tonight.”
It took only nine minutes and an impressive individual effort by Casey for the Union to grab the early lead. After accepting a quick pass from Andrew Wenger, Casey -- who saw relaxed defense at the top of the box -- deked defender Matt Miazga. Moving the ball from his right foot to his left, the veteran striker found an opening for the 1-0 Union lead.
It was Casey’s sixth goal in his last six MLS games. It was also his ninth goal in 11 career games against the Red Bulls.
“As a team we’ve been playing a lot better collectively and getting a lot of chances,” Casey said. “Confidence is high with the group. It’s about riding that confidence right now and making the best of opportunities.”
Later in the first half, Union midfielder and leading assist man Cristian Maidana left the contest with a leg injury. He was replaced in the 38th minute with Fred.
“He called it a small, little pull,” Curtin said of Maidana’s injury. “It’s too early to speculate.”
And the man known as “Grandpa Fred” by his teammates made the most of his opportunity.
Off a counterattack in the 51st minute, Fred played the ball outside to Sheanon Williams, who moved forward and sent a low cross into the box. The ball deflected off a touch from Casey and right to the uncovered Fred, who didn’t miss, placing his shot through Luis Robles and in for the 2-0 advantage.
It was Fred’s first MLS goal since 2010 in his first stint with the Union.
“You have to be ready,” Fred said. “You have to be ready any time the team needs it.”
But the celebration was short lived. In the 60th minute, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips made it 2-1 when he was left open by center back Ethan White at the top of the box. He fired it home for his league-leading 16th goal of the season and fifth in his last four games.
“He took a touch in the top 18, and I should have closed that space,” White said. “He spinned it around me, used me as a shield. Zac [MacMath] didn’t make the save, and I didn’t step out in time.”
Eight minutes later, a beneficial call in the box helped the Union reattain their two-goal cushion. On a corner kick in the 68th minute, while streaking toward the ball, Maurice Edu was wrapped up from behind by Red Bulls defender Eric Alexander. It was blatant enough to warrant a penalty kick.
Lining up for the charity shot, Le Toux pounded the ball high over Robles to make it 3-1 Union. It was Le Toux’s team-leading seventh goal of the season.
MacMath handled the rest. Covering up for lackluster defending by the Union, MacMath made four saves in the second half and five in total to preserve the victory.
“Zac bailed us out a few times there,” Curtin said. “He made some big saves for us, which is what you need, you need that from your goalkeeper. He did a great job.”