Looking for a spark to end a two-month winless streak, the Union used a new tactic - inserting their youngest player into the starting lineup.
Zach Pfeffer, a junior at Upper Dublin High who turned 16 in January and was the Union's first homegrown player, earned his first Major League Soccer start and appearance.
And with Pfeffer playing aggressively in midfield, the Union beat the Columbus Crew, 1-0, on Saturday at PPL Park in Chester, snapping a 0-3-5 skid. It was the Union's first win since a 3-0 victory on July 17 at New England.
"You are always relieved after the first one, and I wanted to see how I fit in and wanted to get a comfort level," Pfeffer said. "I felt good, it was an enjoyable game, and my teammates helped me out a lot."
Pfeffer said he didn't know he'd be starting until he came to the stadium on Saturday evening.
"I think he was nervous as soon as he saw his name on the board, but during practice he was very good playing with the first team," team manager Peter Nowak said. "Everybody welcomed him warmly, and in the 60 minutes he played it was a good start."
Pfeffer was lifted in the 63d minute for Danny Mwanga.
The Union are 9-7-12 for 39 points, and moved within two points of Columbus, which began the evening leading the Eastern Conference.
Pfeffer, who signed with the Union shortly before his 16th birthday, has played in friendlies and reserve games, but this was his first MLS action.
It was another young player, 20-year-old Roger Torres, who continued his late-season ascent as one of the most productive on the team.
Torres set up the game's first goal. From near midfield on the right side, Torres sent a long cross on goal to Sebastien Le Toux, whose one-timer from just inside the box went past sidling keeper William Hesmer in the 32d minute.
"It was a perfect pass, and I was able to finish it with a good run," Le Toux said.
Le Toux, who began the season in a prolonged goal-scoring slump, now has seven goals and eight assists to lead the team in both categories.
Pfeffer had his best MLS scoring chance in the 42d minute on a play that was again started by Torres, who sent a long pass to Le Toux. Playing as a target forward, Le Toux broke down defender Eric Gehrig and found Pfeffer, who spun around and shot right at Hesmer from eight yards out.
Union keeper Zac MacMath earned his second straight shutout, but wasn't seriously tested.