After 60 minutes of relatively little action, the last half-hour of Saturday's game between the Union and Chicago Fire provided plenty of entertainment for the sellout crowd at PPL Park.
Carlos Ruiz smashed a first-time volley from 35 yards past Delaware County native Jon Conway in the 75th minute to give the Union (5-3-2, 17 points) a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire (1-4-5, 8 points) in front of 18,372 fans. All three goals came in a 12-minute span late in the second half.
In the 63d minute, rookie midfielder Michael Farfan got the Union on the scoreboard with a long-range strike of his own.
After Roger Torres was fouled deep into the Fire's half of the field on the left flank, Kyle Nakazawa played the free kick back across midfield. Farfan ran forward and shot the ball from almost 30 yards out. With a wall of defenders blocking his view, Conway was frozen, and could only watch as the ball rolled to his right and into the net.
Farfan did not have long to celebrate, though. In the 67th minute, Chicago's Gonzalo Segares played a cross from the left side that went almost the full width of the field to Dominic Oduro. Oduro beat Farfan off the dribble as he ran into the 18-yard box, and tied the score with a low shot past Faryd Mondragon from a very acute angle.
After scoring the decisive goal, Ruiz was substituted out in the 81st minute for defender Gabriel Farfan. The Guatemalan forward received a loud ovation, with a few "Chooch!" chants sprinkled in from the Sons of Ben supporters club.
Nowak had to make his first substitution of the night in the game's opening moments. In just the first minute of play, midfielder Amobi Okugo slipped and injured his left ankle trying to kick the ball upfield. Okugo tried briefly to stay in the game but gave up the fight and was replaced by Kyle Nakazawa in the fifth minute. The team later announced that Okugo suffered a high ankle sprain.
The first 15 minutes of the game produced only one shot on goal by either team: a speculative, first-touch attempt by Carlos Ruiz from the left side of the 18-yard box that sailed well over Conway's net.
Ruiz produced Conway's first save in the 37th minute, creating space for himself at the edge of the 18-yard box and shooting low to Conway's left. Conway punched the ball aside, and the rebound was cleaned up by Fire defender Yamith Cuesta.
Although the game opened up over the course of the first half, it remained chippy. Danny Califf was given a yellow card after getting tangled up with Chicago's Corben Bone in the 42d minute, and Kyle Nakazawa was whistled a minute later for a shove on Marco Pappa. Pappa took the ensuing free kick, and shot it just over the crossbar.
Referee Hilario Grajeda ended up giving out six yellow cards in the game, four to Chicago and two to Philadelphia.
After a scoreless first half, Sebastien Le Toux nearly got the Union on the board in the 58th minute, trapping a ball in front of Conway and drawing the Chicago goalkeeper off the goal line. Le Toux was able to spin the ball around Conway, but it hit the post and stayed out of the net.
With just over 30 minutes left to go in the game, both coaches made attacking substitutions. Nowak brought on Roger Torres for Jordan Harvey, and Chicago's Carlos de los Cobos brought on Gaston Puerari and Logan Pause for Baggio Husidic and Corben Bone.
As has been the case many times this season, the introduction of Torres proved a major factor in the game. His speed and creativity led to the free kick that livened up a gridlocked game, and the floodgates opened for a thoroughly entertaining final half hour of play.