With three weeks and two games to go in the season, the Union remain alive for a playoff berth.
Their 2-0 win over the defending Major League Soccer champion Seattle Sounders on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium kept faint hopes alive.
It came with the help of a rookie who wasn’t in the day’s original starting lineup. Midfielder Marcus Epps was a late insertion when Chris Pontius felt discomfort in his abdomen during pregame warmups.
Epps made the most of the chance, scoring the first goal in the 28th minute.
Haris Medunjanin fed Ilsinho, who, from just outside the box, made a nice chip to Epps, standing all alone about 12 yards away from the goal on a right angle. Epps had plenty of time to settle the ball, and sent a leftfooted shot just inside the near post of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was Epps’ second goal of his rookie season. He played a strong game Sunday, showing good chemistry with Ilsinho before being replaced by Jay Simpson in the 77th minute.
“I saw space at the near post and thought it would be better going near post,” said Epps, who said he also thought Frei expected him to go far post on the shot he scored on.
The first half was a familiar story, with the Union soundly outplaying Seattle, but allowing the Sounders to stay in the game.
In the 20th minute, Frei made strong saves on Fafa Picault and a little later on C.J. Sapong, thwarting two good scoring chances.
U.S. national team standout Clint Dempsey didn’t start for Seattle (12-9-11, 47 points), but entered the game in the 55th minute and quickly made his presence felt.
In the 63rd minute, he forced Andre Blake to make an outstanding save, tipping a shot from just outside the box over the crossbar.
“He is a great player, and once I see he is in a good spot to take a shot, I have to make sure I am ready and [am] just thankful I was able to make that save,” Blake said about Dempsey.
In the second half, Blake showed the form that made him MLS goalkeeper of the year last season in earning his ninth shutout.
“Andre is special and makes the special save kind of look routine,” Union coach Jim Curtin said.
Blake ended the day with five saves — and a stroke of good luck when Dempsey sent a shot from close range over the crossbar in the 67th minute.
Roland Alberg delivered the insurance goal in the 88th minute, sealing the win and keeping the Union’s postseason hopes alive.
The best the Union can do is earn the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Currently, the New York Red Bulls are sixth with 43 points. The Union, Montreal, New England and Orlando City have 39 points each with two games left.
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) October 1, 2017
If the Red Bulls earn a total of three points in their remaining three games, they will earn the sixth spot. It’s possible two points could also earn the spot, based on tiebreakers.
“I never stop believing, for me and the guys,” Blake said. “We will play until the final game and, if we are out, we are out, but we never stop believing and have to keep going.”