Chester, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Clinging to their playoff lives, the Philadelphia Union welcome Eastern Conference rivals Toronto FC to PPL Park on Saturday in a must-win scenario.
Philadelphia entered last weekend's road clash against Sporting Kansas City winless in its previous five league matches and sitting in seventh place in the crowded Eastern Conference.
But Conor Casey struck against the run of play in the 36th minute and goalkeeper Zac MacMath came up with his best performance of the season as the Union earned a crucial three points in a hostile environment to move into fifth place on 42 points.
"Playing here is incredibly difficult," Union manager John Hackworth said. "We were up against a really good opponent tonight and we were fortunate, but you can see our fight and we were pretty tough and resilient all the way through."
Tactically, the Union played a classic road game, bunkering in a waiting for an opportunity to strike on the counter-attack. Sporting had much more of possession and put several quality chances on frame, but was unable to finish, which ultimately cost them the points.
"They put us under a lot of pressure for good chunks of the game," Casey said. "But I thought we defended quite well, especially our back four. It was just really a great team defensive effort. It's just a huge three points for us and something we really needed at this point in the season."
The result was Philadelphia's most important of the season. But now another must-win is on the docket with ninth-place Toronto FC coming to town.
If Philadelphia wants to claim another important three points, which would almost secure their second playoff berth in franchise history, they will need to adopt a more forward-thinking approach to the game.
Toronto has struggled mightily this season with just five victories, but they'll be riding into Chester on a high after demolishing D.C. United by a 4-1 count at BMO Field last Saturday, which put an end to an eight-match winless run.
D.C. United opened the scoring with a long-range effort from Jared Jeffrey in the 15th minute, but Toronto then took over as Darel Russell scored 10 minutes later to send the sides into the break on level terms.
Bright Dike gave TFC the lead with his first goal of the season in the 76th minute. A Conor Shanosky own goal put the home side ahead by two and Alvaro Rey scored three minutes from time to complete the rout for the Reds.
"It is definitely a good feeling," Dike said of his team's victory. "We have to keep it going now. Hopefully we can start stringing together some performances like that and become a better and more consistent team at the end of this year and next year."
Saturday's clash will be the third and final meeting of the season between the sides. Both previous meetings finished as 1-1 draws with Union forward Jack McInerney scoring a late equalizer on both occasions.