CHESTER, Pa. – If this was an audition for the US Open Cup final, the Philadelphia Union passed with flying colors.
Playing their first-choice lineup that will likely be the one that takes the field for the USOC final in 10 days, the Union rode goals from Tranquillo Barnetta and C.J. Sapong to a convincing 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night at PPL Park.
John McCarthy made five saves to earn the shutout for the Union (9-15-6), who remain out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and figure to rest some starters for their next league game to prepare for the Open Cup.
Captain Maurice Edu, who missed the previous six league matches with a groin injury, returned to center back to anchor the backline to the shutout and help Philly beat Houston for the first time in their last seven meetings.
Tyler Deric made five saves in a losing effort for the Dynamo (9-12-8), who remain in ninth place in the Western Conference, six points out of the playoff picture.
The Union surged to an early lead when summer signing Barnetta scored his first MLS goal, putting a great first touch by Houston’s AJ Cochran in the box before beating goalkeeper Deric from point-blank range in the third minute.
The play originated when Cristian Maidana, back from a two-game suspension, played a ball down the line to Sebastien Le Toux, who slid a cross over to Barnetta.
The assist was Le Toux’s 50th of his MLS career as the Frenchman became the 16th member of the league’s 50 goal-50 assist club.
Philly doubled their lead in the 63rd minute when Sapong banged home a Fabinho cross for his ninth goal of the season, matching his career high. Fabinho got free to make the cross after an effective one-two with Barnetta near the left corner.
Two minutes later, Barnetta nearly continued his huge night with his second goal of the game but blasted an open shot high on a feed from Le Toux.
Houston’s best chance came in the 36th minute when David Horst’s header went off the post and McCarthy scrambled to bat away the rebound.
In the 85th minute, Ricardo Clark ran onto a tantalizing ball but blasted a good look high and wide as the Houston dropped their second straight game by two goals.
The Dynamo have a quick turnaround with a home game against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS), while the Union hit the road to face the New England Revolution on Saturday.
Philadelphia Union (9-15-6; 33 points) vs. Houston Dynamo (9-12-8; 35 points)
MLS regular season
September 20, 2015 – PPL Park, Chester, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Union: Tranquillo Barnetta 1 (Sebastian Le Toux 6) 3
Philadelphia Union: C.J. Sapong 9 (Fabinho 3) 63
Houston Dynamo: Tyler Deric; Kofi Sarkodie (Luis Garrido 46), David Horst, AJ Cochran, Sheanon Williams; Leonel Miranda, Ricardo Clark, Giles Barnes (Mauro Manotas 81), Brad Davis © (Erick Torres 70), Boniek García; Will Bruin
Substitutes Not Used: Joe Willis, Taylor Hunter, Rasheed Olabiyi, Nathan Sturgis
Philadelphia Union: John McCarthy; Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez, Maurice Edu ©, Fabinho; Vincent Nogueira, Michael Lahoud, Chaco Maidana (Conor Casey 76), Sebastién Le Toux, Tranquillo Barnetta; C.J. Sapong
Substitutes Not Used: Andre Blake, Warren Creavalle, Brian Carroll, Eric Ayuk, Fernando Aristeguieta, Steven Vitora
HOU: Giles Barnes (caution) 14
HOU: Leonel Miranda (caution) 60
PHI: Tranquillo Barnetta (caution) 90+1
Referee: Juan Guzman
Assistant Referees: Corey Parker, Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho
Fourth Official: Marcos de Oliveira