How things have changed since opening day! The Union’s season began on March 4th when they hosted Toronto FC. Granted, the defense was slow to react and they handed Toronto two of it’s three goals in a 3-1 lackluster loss. One of the major story lines from that match involved referee, Nima Saghafi, or should I say Toronto and USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley. Saghafi permitted constant infringement on Bradley’s behalf, as well as allowing Bradley to dictate the entire flow of the match, starting and stopping it with argument after argument as he pleased.
I still don’t know for sure if Saghafi received any discipline from PRO (Professional Referee Organization) or MLS (Major League Soccer) after that display. As for this past Saturday, this time at BMO Field in Toronto, referee, Ramy Touchan, gave both sides a fair shot and called an even match from the opening to final whistle.
Toronto FC came into their match-up with the Union on the upswing, climbing the standings and closing in on the first place Union. They had outscored the Union 8-1 in their previous three match-ups and you could almost sense a psychological edge creeping in. It looked like Jim Curtin’s strategy was push the tempo and go for 3 points on the road. Marco Fabián returned from injury and his speed did not look affected. He had an early fast break, pushing past a few defenders at midfield but it didn’t yield any results. There seemed to be some miscommunication between him and Kacper Przybylko. I won’t crucify Fabián for this since he and Przybylko haven’t had much time to get acclimated. Only briefly this season have both been healthy concurrently.
Around the 16th minute Toronto methodically ran the the right down side of the Union defense with very little resistance. They gave the Toronto offense too much time and space to operate but were able to avoid disaster. This became the norm for the majority of the match. The Union defense has been so stellar, that it was strange to see such a constant flaw. Even well into the second half, the case was still the same. For a club that has been excellent at making adjustments as of late, this one did not make any sense.
Michael Bradley had a series of knocks against Fabián and then Aejandro Bedoya in the 21st minute. Referee Touchan called Bradley for a foul and despite protest from the Toronto star, Touchan wasn’t having it. I sensed at that moment the outcome of this match was fairly up-for-grabs. Przybylko had a break-away with an open Bedoya on his right. He didn’t see him, took the shot himself and it was deflected wide right.
Przybylko would redeem himself just a few minutes later. In the 25th minute, he played an excellent ball to Kai Wagner who was streaking down the left flank. Wagner played an outstanding grounded cross to Fafa Picault.Toronto defender, Chris Mavinga, was bodied up on Picault and he would send the ball past his own goalkeeper, Quentin Wesberg. It originally was credited to Picault but the replay showed it was off Mavinga. Regardless, it was a well-developed offensive play, going from striker to defender to winger. A thing of beauty. The Union would take a 1-0 lead into the half.
Toronto looked determined early in the 2nd half. The Union got lucky as they granted Toronto a number of opportunities to score and were unusually slow to step to the ball on defense. In the 50th minute, the Union had trouble clearing the ball out of their end. Ultimately, Fabián had the best chance, but rather than a simple clearance, he attempted to dribble through a number of attackers and turned it over again. This resulted in a foul just outside the Union 18 yard box and a free kick for Toronto forward, Alejandro Puzuelo, who converted a beautiful curler into the upper right corner of the net. Curtin had seen enough from Fabián who had a number of turnovers on the day and replaced him with Brenden Aaronson only five minutes later.
The Union wouldn’t waste much time in retaking the lead. In the 68th minute, Toronto midfielder, Auro, had to briefly leave the field with an injury. While he was waiting to re-enter the match, Przybylko and Jamiro Monteiro executed a give-and-go that would have made Stockton and Malone jealous. Monteiro sent it in for his second goal of the season.
An interesting moment in the 74th minute: Toronto defender, Laurent Ciman, dropped to the ground with an apparent leg injury. The play was not whistled dead, and rather than taking a clear path to the goal, recently subbed-on forward, Sergio Santos fired the shot from a distance that was not even close. It appeared Santos thought play had been stopped. A goal there could have sealed the win for the Union.
The tension was clearly building at this point and the Union would survive what looked like a sure disaster. Toronto midfielder, Justin Morrow, floated a ball into the Union box, intended for forward, Jozy Altidore. Union keeper, Carlos Miguel Coronel, collided with center back, Auston Trusty, allowing Toronto a chance to quickly set up another shot. After the collision, Altidore crossed the ball back towards the middle of the box, but Coronel was able to regain his composure in time to thwart the attempt. The Union would hold on for the 2-1 win and remain at the top of the Eastern Conference.
A FEW GAME NOTES:
- Kacper Przybylko has started the past four matches for the Union and has registered a goal or an assist in each contest.
- Goalkeeper, Carlos Miguel Coronel has been stellar in his 229 minutes in net over the last three matches, surrendering only two goals with some outstanding saves to boot.
- The decision will have to be made soon about Marco Fabián’s role on the Union. Although talented, he constantly commits silly, reckless fouls and gives the ball away too often. Curtin may give him a few more starts before making a more definitive decision about going with him or Brenden Aaronson on a full-time starter basis.
Stay tuned this week to Philly Sports Network as we preview the Union’s next match at home against the Seattle Sounders.
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Mandatory Credit: sportsnet.ca