CONOR CASEY'S wasn't a name heard all too often through the first 14 games of a struggle-filled season for the Philadelphia Union. Hindered by injury to begin the year, the veteran forward started three times and garnered inconsistent minutes.
But in the Union's 3-0 road victory against a last-place Chivas USA club on Saturday night in Carson, Calif., Casey offered his most productive performance since last season. Entering the night with two shots on goal the entire year, he scored his first two goals of the season in a much-needed win for the Philly club.
"It's fantastic for him. I'm so happy for him," Union manager John Hackworth said. "I've probably been a little tougher on him than I should have been, to be fair. He probably deserved a shot earlier in the season to have more minutes, but we challenged him and he certainly answered those challenges for sure."
The third triumph of the season for the Union (3-7-5) also marked its first shutout since its March 15 home opener against New England. It plays one more match, against Vancouver (4-2-5) on Saturday (7 p.m.) at PPL Park, before Major League Soccer breaks for this month's World Cup in Brazil.
"Hopefully we will be able to take the confidence with us this week," said Casey, who scored 10 goals last season and has 62 for his MLS career. "We need to follow this up with points at home, too. We haven't played well at home. We know that we are behind, pointwise, this season. We have played a lot of games and haven't gotten a lot of points. We need to make sure, especially going into the break, that we follow this performance up with another good performance."
Casey's first goal on Saturday came via a penalty kick in the 28th minute. After the match, he thanked midfielder Maurice Edu for allowing him to take the PK and "get this year kicked off." In the 66th minute, Casey scored on a diving header in front of the net off a great cross from Cristian Maidana.
"Put it on a platter for me," Casey said of Maidana's pass, which made for one of the Union's most aesthetically pleasing goals of 2014.
In the 76th minute, Maidana's second goal of the season increased the Union's lead to three. The Argentinean midfielder has five points, tying him with Sebastien Le Toux for the team lead.
But it was the defensive performance that was perhaps the most encouraging. Before Saturday, Philadelphia had surrendered a combined nine goals in its previous two matches, against New England and the LA Galaxy.
Hackworth paired Sheanon Williams with Amobi Okugo at center back once again, with Fabinho and Ray Gaddis playing left and right back. Austin Berry, who Hackworth said on Wednesday was back to 100 percent, sat out the second straight weekend.
Chivas (2-7-4), which owns the worst record in MLS, was held to six shots, just one on target.
"We tried to emphasize that we needed to be better defensively," Hackworth said. "We feel like we're a team that can play. We even felt that we played good soccer against LA at times, but [Saturday night] we felt like we had to keep a zero and the longer we did that we were going to give ourselves a chance."
Fred, the veteran Brazilian midfielder, got his first start of the year, filling the spot opened by a hamstring injury to captain Brian Carroll. It was Fred's first MLS start since June 11, 2011. He spent 2011 to '13 with the Melbourne Heart in Australia.
"It's been a year that I didn't play the 90 minutes," Fred said. "Before the game, I was so excited to play, I felt like I was 20 years old. When I started playing, the football flowed and I'm very happy. I feel a little bit older. They call me grandpa, but I [felt] great [Saturday] on the field and I think I can help Philadelphia get to the top."