A goal by Jamiro Monteiro late in the first half and a goal by Sergio Santos early in the second carried the Union past the Montreal Impact, 2-1, on Sunday night in the first game with fans in attendance for any Philadelphia sports team since the coronavirus pandemic started.
The crowd was just over 2,000 fans. Pennsylvania’s new state order permitting 15% occupancy of venues with more than 10,000 seats allowed a total of 2,775 people inside 18,500-seat Subaru Park, including both teams and all stadium staff.
There wasn’t much for the fans to enjoy early on. As a windy rainstorm blew across the field, the Union (10-3-4, 34 points) recorded more injury scares (three) than shots (one) in the first 38 minutes. Andre Blake, Kai Waigner, and Olivier Mbaizo each went down and took a while to get up. Fortunately, they all overcame what ailed them and stayed in the game.
It didn’t help that Montreal (6-9-2, 20 points) rolled out a five-back defense, plus a trio of defensive-minded midfielders in front of them. But in the 39th, Ilsinho -- making a rare start to give Santos some rest -- sent a superb pass toward Monteiro that split four Montreal players and caught a fifth flat-footed. Monteiro ran onto the ball, and with a smart first touch placed it past goalkeeper Clément Diop at the near post.
“He [Ilsinho] plays it when the defense least expects it, and obviously breaks down the entire back line with one pass,” Curtin said. “And 'Miro obviously makes a good run in deep. A special play, a great goal, and as a coach you can take zero credit for that -- that’s just quality.”
Union manager Jim Curtin made his first substitution at halftime. Warren Creavalle exited for Santos, which shuffled the 4-2-3-1 formation around in a few ways. Monteiro had started at the No. 10, and moved back to Creavalle’s deeper spot; Brenden Aaronson moved from the left to the center; and Santos took what had been Aaronson’s place.
Santos, Aaronson, and Ilsinho were given liberty to swap places, and they made use of it just three minutes into the second half. Aaronson made a run on the left and sprung Ilsinho behind the Montreal defense, then Ilsinho laid the ball off for an unmarked Santos to tap in.
Matt Real replaced Mbaizo in the 61st minute, and while he’s a left back, he was the only outside back on the bench with Ray Gaddis out injured.
Amar Sejdic pulled a goal back for the Impact in the 65th, becoming the first player to breach the Union’s net at Subaru Park in a month. That’s as good a sign as any of the Union’s quality this year. After conceding 50 goals in 34 games in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, they’ve only given up 14 in 17 games this year.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense this year,” Blake said. “All the guys are committed. Jim always says, 'All 11 guys defend [and] all 11 guys attack, and I think the guys are all bought in.”
Ilsinho finally departed in the 72nd minute. Anthony Fontana was going to replace him at some point anyway, but unfortunately it came after the Brazilian took a strong tackle from Jorge Corrales and needed a while to get up from it.
Montreal came a little too close for comfort to equalizing in the 86th when Romell Quioto broke free and chipped Blake, but his shot rolled wide of the net.
The win gave the Union sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with six games to go in the regular season.
“This entire group, no matter who’s called upon, the next man always has stepped up,” Curtin said. “Guys have been asked to play out of position, guys have been asked to go above and beyond for the team. ... Every week, these guys don’t want to let each other down, and that’s something that’s powerful.”
Patriots' COVID cases affect Union schedule
The Union’s upcoming game at the New England Revolution was pushed back a day, from Oct. 18 to Oct. 19, after the New England Patriots' coronavirus outbreak upended the NFL schedule. The Pats’ game against the Broncos that was first moved from Oct. 11 to the 12th was postponed to the 18th, kicking the soccer game out of Gillette Stadium.
Fortunately, the Union don’t have a midweek game next week, so there will be enough time to rest before the crucial Oct. 24 home game against Toronto FC.