Photo: Earl Gardner
Entering Saturday night’s contest against Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park, the lingering questions around the Union camp focused on the team’s poor finishing. Sixty-two seconds into the match, those concerns were answered.
Jack McInerney pounded home a loose ball for his first of two goals on the night, firing the Union to a 4-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.
With the Union back four resolute in defense, the offense pressed forward all night, with McInerney leading the line and Lionard Pajoy adding a threat in attack from the left.
Down 2-0 at the half, Kansas City pressed hard in an attempt to overturn the Union lead but found no way through an organized Union team. With the match stretched, super sub Antoine Hoppenot repeatedly burst in behind the Kansas City defense, first earning a penalty for Pajoy to convert and finally notching a tally of his own in the dying moments of the match.
Pleased with his side’s performance against DC United, Union manager John Hackworth made only two changes to the starting XI. Raymon Gaddis replaced Sheanon Williams due to injury, and Lionard Pajoy returned from suspension to take over for Josue Martinez.
Hackworth did not have to wait long for his decisions to pay off. Inside the match’s first minute, Amobi Okugo spotted a forward-rushing Ray Gaddis and put his lofted service into the fullback’s stride. Racing towards the touchline, Gaddis drove the ball across the face of goal where Lionard Pajoy, at full stretch, managed to keep the ball in play for Jack McInerney. McInerney toe-poked the ball into the net, sending the PPL Park crown into dreamland.
Stunned by the early goal, Kansas City regrouped, finding space in the midfield through Graham Zusi’s play. Despite Sporting’s recovery, the Union remained well organized at the back. Kansas City managed no more than a blocked shot and a corner as captain Carlos Valdes led the Union defense by example, putting in a performance of the highest quality.
Another long service from Okugo nearly opened up Kansas City again in the 21st minute, when he found a streaking Pajoy. Running out of real estate on the end line, Pajoy’s neat backheel found Gabriel Farfan who quickly played in Michael Lahoud. Unfortunately for the Union, Lahoud could not get a shot off, carrying it instead over the endline, with Jimmy Nielsen between him and a two-goal cushion.
Kansas City’s much vaunted offense continued to turn up the pressure as they searched for an equalizer before half. Both Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury had chances in front of goal, though neither could find the target.
With Kansas City failing to capitalize on their growing pressure, the Union found the breakthrough that would give them an insurance goal just before halftime.
Michael Farfan and McInerney proved the release valve as the Union broke Sporting’s spell of pressure, with the pair figuring prominently in the build up play. The Union began to throw numbers forward, and when Kei Kamara scythed down Gabe Farfan in a dangerous position, Freddy Adu stepped up to take the free kick. Sporting failed to track Carlos Valdes’ late run into the box, and when the ball ricocheted off of a defender, Valdes knocked the ball loose for McInerney to blast home his second goal from close range, sending the crowd into euphoria and the Union into halftime with a comfortable lead.
Despite the need for goals coming out of halftime, Kansas City failed to find an offensive spark, and the match descended into chippy fouling in the second half’s opening minutes.
Neither side controlled the play as the match crept towards the hour mark, and coach Hackworth brought on live-wire substitute Antoine Hoppenot to exploit the extra space created as Kansas City pushed more numbers into attack.
It would be Kansas City with the next scoring chance, however, as Kamara jumped over Gabe Farfan, nodding the ball into Teal Bunbury’s path. With only MacMath to beat, Bunbury skewed his shot badly, missing the target and failing to worry the Union goalkeeper.
Hoppenot nearly made his coach look like a genius on 69 minutes, when he slipped in behind the tiring pair of Aurelien Collin and Lawrence Olum. Racing onto Michael Farfan’s through ball, Hoppenot elected to chip the keeper, only to see his effort fly over the crossbar. It was a break for Kansas City, but the danger Hoppenot posed was clear.
Before he would get his next chance though, Kansas City nearly halved the Union’s lead when Graham Zusi sent a free kick hurtling towards Zac MacMath’s far post. MacMath was equal to it and pushed the shot away at full stretch, preserving his clean sheet.
Waves of Kansas City pressure continued to crash against the Union back four, but the immense play of Carlos Valdes kept the visitors out and in the 80th minute, the Union finally put the match to bed.
With the Union needing to find relief from Sporting’s offensive pressure, it was Amobi Okugo who again turned provider, putting Hoppenot through with pinpoint service. Locating the fleet-footed Hoppenot, he sent the striker in behind the defense. After Hoppenot turned Collin with some clever dribbling, the big Frenchman was forced to drag Hoppenot to the ground. It was a clear penalty, and referee Terry Vaughn did not hesitate to point to the spot.
Lionard Pajoy took the ball. After sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, he coolly buried the penalty, killing off any chance of a Kansas City comeback.
The Union were not finished attacking though, as Hoppenot again proved the danger man. In a near carbon copy of his first effort, he onto a Michael Farfan lofted through ball and raced in on Nielsen. Given a second opportunity to measure his chip, Hoppenot got it right, lofting the ball over the Kansas City goalkeeper, nestling it in the back of the net, and providing a fitting end to the Union’s most complete and dominant performance of 2012.
John Hackworth’s Post-Game Press Conference
Post-Game Player Interviews with Ray Gaddis, Jack McInerney, Antoine Hoppenot and Amobi Okugo
Zac MacMath; Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan; Michael Farfan, Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud; Freddy Adu (Antoine Hoppenot ’59), Jack McInerney (Keon Daniel ’73), Lionard Pajoy
Unused Substitutes: Chris Konopka, Porfirio Lopez, Josue Martinez, Jorge Perlaza, Roger Torres
Sporting Kansas City
Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Lawrence Olum, Seth Sinovic; Julio Cesar (Michael Thomas ’64), Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza (Jacob Peterson ’84) ; CJ Sapong (Soony Saad ’74), Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara
Unused Substitutes: Eric Kronberg, Michael Harrington, Konrad Warzycha, Peterson Joseph
2 – PHI: McInerney (Pajoy)
43 – PHI: McInerney (Valdes)
81 – PHI: Pajoy (PK)
87 – PHI: Hoppenot (M. Farfan)
17 – PHI: Carroll (caution)
22 – SKC: Cesar (caution)
25 – PHI: Gaddis (caution)
63 – PHI: Lahoud (caution)
80 – SKC: Collin (caution)