The Union came into their match against Toronto FC on a poor run of form that saw them drop to fifth place in the eastern conference. The main problem for Philly seemed to be their attack that couldn’t score more than once in close matches. Union coach Jim Curtin mentioned this in his midweek press conference. He stated that if one goal would go in early, then the floodgates would open. That’s exactly what happened as the Union beat TFC 3-0.
Union score three to down Toronto in must needed win
The Union played what is probably their best game of the 2021 MLS season so far on Wednesday night against Toronto. While the possession was split 50-50, Philly doesn’t usually want to win that possession stat. They care more about winning duels and creating chances.
That is what they dominated against Toronto. Philly won 53 of the 91 duels in this match; they bossed Toronto when going up against them. This included winning 10 of the 19 tackles they attempted. The team’s defense was fly just like their attack.
The Union 13 real chances on goal while jacking up 17 shots, seven of which were on target. Of those seven shots that were on frame, three went in! The offense was clicking and scoring all three goals in different ways. What might have been most impressive is that the three goals were all scored in 24 minutes!
Floodgates are opening for this Union attack
Jim Curtin was clairvoyant in his midweek presser on Tuesday talking about the floodgates opening up if his team could find a goal against Toronto. On Wednesday night his side came out with intensity, purpose, and directness that was lacking in the last few matches. This led to three goals being scored in three different ways.
The first goal came from a corner. A beautiful ball was played in the box by Gazdag, and Glesness ran to meet it. He skied over his defender and hit the ball with the backside of his head. The Norweigan got enough on it to get it past Alex Bono to give Philly the lead in the 12th minute.
The next goal came from a bit of nice play from the Union. They were looking to add to their lead in the 32nd minute by playing centrally into Toronto’s box. The effort didn’t come off, but the ball bounced to the feet of Sergio Santos. Santos speed past his mark into the box, and tried to round Bono to score. The Toronto keeper came out and clipped Sergio’s heels. The referee rightly pointed to the spot for a penalty. The ball was eventually given to newcomer Gazdag. He powered home the perfect pen over the outstretched arms of Bono.
Not three minutes after the Union secured their second, they got their third. This time for a sequence that started in their own half. A wayward Toronto pass was picked off by “El Brujo” Martinez. He then had a lot of space in the middle of the park to push forward. He took one touch picked his head up and saw Santos on the back shoulder of Toronto center back Omar Gonzalez. El Brujo put a perfect 30-yard through ball to the feet of Santos who was in on goal. He took two touches, got into the box, and placed the perfect finish past Bono.
It was 3-0 Union after 36 minutes. Philly took that lead into the second half where they’d hold on to eventually win. Thanks to some great defense and goalkeeping.
A clean sheet, and confidence for the backline
The Union’s tendency to let in goals in the first fifteen minutes of half was a concerning trend that did not occur on Wednesday night. Now past the halfway point of the season, the Union needs their backline to be tidy to keep their offense in games. the brilliance of goalkeeper Andre Blake can help with that as well. This match could be a building block for this unit to be strong from the start and through 90 minutes.
The Union didn’t allow Toronto to get many chances in the first half, especially inside the first 15 minutes. The team’s counter-pressing and one-v-one defending was spot on. Toronto really only looked threatening at one point of the match and that was the beginning of the second half.
Inside that first fifteen minutes of the second half, Toronto pushed the pace, throwing numbers forward to try to get into the game. That worked in their favor as they were awarded a very soft penalty in the 51st minute. It looked like Jack Elliot won the ball off of Richie Larayea, but the ref awarded a penalty. Newcoming attacking threat Yeferson Soteldo stepped up, but couldn’t slot home the effort as Andre Blake stood tall!
The penalty saves effectively ended any Toronto hopes of scoring as the Union continued to press them and not allow Toronto to combine or build up their attack. It was truly a great effort by the Union’s number one starting squad.
This is the preferred starting XI moving forward
Jim Curtin spoke about playing his top XI in this match against Toronto. He mentioned this match as part of a three-game stretch that included this Toronto game, the way New England game on the weekend, and the away leg of the CCL semifinal next week. This is likely because Curtin wants to rest some if not all, of his top squad as this team goes to play on New England’s turf this coming Sunday. Curtin seems to be prioritizing the CCL semifinal match above a showdown with the top team of the east in New England. Expect to see the kids play on Sunday, what an opportunity that will be.
Speaking of Homegrowns, it seems like the trio of Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan, and Paxten Aaronson are ready to trust with game minutes for this Union team. Curtin mentioned not trusting his youth earlier this season, but now is a different story. All three of those youngsters got minutes and looked dangerous against Toronto. Could that trio lead a Union midfield to New England and somehow take points off the 2021 supporters shield front runners? They will get that opportunity, as it seems like heavy rotation of the squad is imminent.
Philly plays leg one of the CCL Semifinals against Club America in the historic Azteca stadium one week from today! Curtin has mentioned that the squad that started against Toronto is his top team. Therefore, there should be some major rotations in New England to keep this starting group fresh for what will be the biggest game in club history. If the majority of these normal starters start on the turf in New England, they’ll be at higher risk for injury. So what will Curtin do?
Philly moved up to third place in the east with their win Wednesday night. They’re a point off of second place as well. They’re in a position to compete for the top of the east on Sunday against frontrunners New England. Will Curtin rest all of his starters for the CCL semifinals, rotate out a few players, or role with his number one starting squad? These are the tense decision he has to make as we enter what could be the most important two games of the Union’s 2021 campaign.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union via Instagram