18,526 Union fans at PPL Park on Saturday afternoon, as Philadelphia earned their first win of the 2012 season by edging the visiting Columbus Crew by a score of 1-0. Gabriel Gomez opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half, giving the Union a lead that they would not relinquish.
It was an inauspicious start for the home side, who were forced to reshuffle the back line after Danny Califf was scratched from the lineup prior to kickoff due a hamstring injury suffered during warmups. Just moments into the match, Gabe Farfan was on the receiving end of an elbow that left him momentarily shaken, a harbinger of the physical play that took place throughout the match.
With Freddy Adu back in the lineup for the first time since returning from the US U-23 national team, the Union attack sought to take advantage of a Columbus defense that conceded four goals in their last match. The visitors, however, proved difficult to break down early on, with Philadelphia struggling to generate scoring opportunities.
The Union’s breakthrough would come in the 37th minute, though, when Freddy Adu cut in from the left wing and played a right-footed cross across the box. The service found the arm of Crew defender Eric Gehrig, earning the Union their first penalty kick of the season. In the 38th minute, Gomez converted the penalty with a soft chip over Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.
Riding a wave of confidence after earning the lead, the Union came out of the locker room pressing for another goal. Keon Daniel and Michael Farfan drove the attack, adding creativity and vision to the midfield. Farfan nearly doubled the Union lead in spectacular fashion in the 49th minute, with his shot deflecting wide after a weaving run through the Crew defense.
Sheanon Williams, forced into center back duty after the late lineup change, played admirably in the middle, with he and Carlos Valdes guiding the Union back four to another stingy performance.
In his MLS debut, Raymon Gaddis was active at right back, using his pace to add width to the attack and cover ground in the defensive half. Gabe Farfan, meanwhile, turned in another quality effort at left back.
Thanks to the play of his defense, Zac MacMath had little to do in the opening half. He was called into action for the first time in the 54th minute, with a flying kick save denying Olman Vargas from close-range inside the box.
Three minutes later, the Union nearly found their second goal, with an Adu cross finding the head of Daniel in a crowd. The Trinidadian’s header flew just over the crossbar, however.
As the second half wore on, the hosts began to control possession, with Amobi Okugo and Josue Martinez adding energy off the bench.
Philadelphia would continue to push for a second goal, with Lionard Pajoy battling to get in behind of the Crew defense. The insurance tally would not come, but the Union were able to preserve their lead thanks in part to the commanding aerial play of MacMath.
Moments after rookie Antoine Hoppenot entered the match to earn the first minutes of his MLS career, referee Michael Kennedy blew the final whistle, eliciting a roar from the PPL Park faithful.
The result ends the Union’s four-match winless run to start the season. With their second consecutive clean sheet, MacMath and the defense extended their shutout streak to 242 minutes.