CHESTER, Pa. — Getting back on track was far from easy for the Philadelphia Union in sweltering heat Saturday night.
But Jim Curtin’s side was able to get the job done in methodical fashion to down the Chicago Fire 2-0 and earn its first clean sheet since May 18.
“It was a gutsy performance,” Curtin said. “Not our best soccer, but I thought we showed a lot of character in what was an important game in a lot of ways.”
Marco Fabian and Anthony Fontana scored a goal each for the home side in its second victory in six matches since the resumption of play after the Concacaf Gold Cup break.
The Union started similar to their last home game at Talen Energy Stadium, with Fabian finding the back of the net early.
The 11th-minute strike came off a well-timed free kick on the left wing that started with Haris Medunjanin.
Medunjanin played the ball to the center of the pitch, where Kai Wagner was waiting to dump the ball to the right onto the boot of Fabian.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) July 20, 2019
The Mexican midfielder blasted his shot into the left side of the net, giving Kenneth Kronholm no chance of saving it.
“We trained a lot in the last week on set pieces because we haven’t scored this year on a set piece,” Wagner said.
“Normally, we try for me to shoot with my left foot, but it was a little bit far away from the goal and I saw that Marco was free,” Wagner said. “Everybody knows he can shoot very good with his right foot. I was happy that we got our first goal off a set piece.”
Philadelphia had to wait until the 65th minute to double its advantage over its struggling foe from the opposite end of the Eastern Conference standings.
Wagner dribbled into the penalty area on the left side, working his way around defenders to play a ball into the middle of the box, where Fontana connected with the assist from close range.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) July 21, 2019
“I just knew that once (Wagner) stood up, he is a good enough player to just slide that ball right there,” Fontana said. “Once he stood up, I knew and that’s when I made my run.”
The strike was the first in league play for Fontana this season. The Homegrown midfielder also scored in the U.S. Open Cup against D.C. United.
“At halftime, nobody was happy and I thought that the response in the second half was an improved one,” Curtin said. “Still, not our perfect game, but a very professional performance. In the middle of July, you need these types of wins and you need clean sheets, to be honest.
Chicago showed life in the final third in spurts, with former Union forward C.J. Sapong being the main danger man.
Sapong, who has nine goals in 2019, put a pair of headers on target in the second half right at Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.
For most of the night, Sapong was stifled by Jack Elliott, who forced his former teammate out wide when he approached the box, instead of his favored cut inside.
Jul 20, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Ilsinho (25) and midfielder Marco Fabian (10) take the field for warm ups before action against the Chicago Fire at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Elliott and the Union back line held the Fire to three shots on target in a shutout they greatly needed after conceding four goals last weekend to Real Salt Lake and 12 in the last five games.
The victory allowed the Union (11-6-6, 39 points) to move four points ahead of D.C. United at the top of the East for one night. D.C. visits Atlanta United Sunday.
Philadelphia is back in action next Saturday at the Montreal Impact, while the Fire (5-10-8, 23 points) next play at home against D.C. in a week’s time.