The Union entered Saturday's clash with the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact in a precarious spot. As the game kicked off, John Hackworth's crew held fourth place in a division where first and seventh place were separated by just seven points.
They ended the night without any goals, and with one point instead of three. But playing the Impact to a scoreless draw brought some much-needed stability after last Sunday's 5-1 blowout loss at New England.
Though the lack of scoring disappointed the 18,339 fans at PPL Park, the shutout was more important - especially since the Union (10-8-9, 39 points) took the field without one of their most important defenders.
Centerback Amobi Okugo served the first game of a two-game suspension for accumulating yellow cards and being ejected last Sunday.
Fortunately, regular starter Raymon Gaddis was fit enough to return to the lineup. That gave Hackworth cover to move right back Sheanon Williams to the center of defense, as Gaddis took Williams' place on the flank.
"Both Sheanon and Ray were really good tonight," Hackworth said. "Our whole defense was excellent."
Indeed, Williams had a sterling night in his new position. He teamed up with Jeff Parke to hold Montréal star Marco Di Vaio - Major League Soccer's leading scorer - to just two shots on goal.
"Me and Jeff both like to talk, and that keeps both of us alert," Williams said. "That especially helps me playing center back, which isn't my natural position."
Di Vaio's best chance to score came in the 60th minute. The veteran Italian got free on the left side of the six-yard box and shot past Zac MacMath from an acute angle. But he was offside, and far side linesman Kevin Klinger raised his flag just as the ball hit the net. The goal was waved off, and Montréal (12-7-6, 42 points) never really troubled MacMath for the rest of the night.
The Union's attack was lively throughout the game, pushing the tempo and creating its fair share of chances. The best came in the 42nd minute, when Sébastien Le Toux forced Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins to make a spectacular save of a smash from 18 yards.
Hackworth kept the pressure up by making three attacking substitutes late in the second half. In addition to inserting forwards Antoine Hoppenot and Aaron Wheeler, Brazilian attacking midfielder Kléberson made his first appearance since June 1.
The trio provided a spark, but didn't provide any goals. On the whole, though, the Union were able to re-establish their reputation as a defense-first team - a crucial statement as Major League Soccer's playoff race begins in earnest.