Saturday was such a positive night for Union. They traveled down to DC with an energetic group of fans and came back with 3 points in their pocket, and the belief that the Supporters Shield race isn’t over just yet having a game in hand and a head-to-head with the Shield leaders FC Cincinnati coming up in September at Subaru Park.
But Union knew the 3-1 win against DC meant nothing if they weren’t able to keep it going with a result on the road in Toronto midweek. And despite Toronto having issues on and off the field, scoring in just one of their last 8 games and winning just 2 of their previous 20 in all competitions, Head Coach Jim Curtin knew this had the potential to be a trap game if they didn’t bring their best. And that’s exactly what it was.
Starting XI – Front 3 stays together, Bedoya Returns, and McGlynn and Bueno on the bench
Jim Curtin went back to the 4-4-2 Diamond on Wednesday night. Jim mentioned a few press conferences ago that when everyone is fit, he feels Union is at its strongest in the 4-4-2 diamond. That allows them to get their best players on the field in their best positions, so as long as everyone stays fit and available, I’d expect to see this formation start most games.
Coming into Toronto, Curtin was open about the need for rotation with 3 games in 8 days, and having already surpassed the amount of games they played last season by the end of August. But none of that rotation happened in the backline, which should have given Union and their fans some comfort while on the road. Andre Blake took his place in net, with a back 4 of Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, and Olivier Mbaizo.
Jose Martinez was fit to start despite coming off early against DC, and he was joined by Leon Flach and Ale Bedoya on either side of the diamond. Ale Bedoya has made a few sub appearances since returning from injury, but Wednesday night marked his first start since July 15th against NYCFC. The front 3 of Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Mikael Uhre stayed together in their hot form. So overall, it was a pretty strong lineup Union put out.
Mistakes in the defensive zone give Toronto the lead
The last few games we’ve seen Union get off to fast starts in games they’ve gotten wins in. Mikael Uhre against DC, Jesus Bueno against Monterrey, and again against Queretaro, but despite getting themselves in good positions and earning a few early corners, Union couldn’t keep that trend going against Toronto and the home team was able to settle into the game. Toronto wasn’t necessarily putting the pedal to Union and pressuring them into making big plays early on, but they weren’t really allowing Union to do that to them either.
Staying in the game early had to be a point of emphasis for Toronto coming into the match, and getting 20 minutes in without giving up too threatening of a chance builds some confidence. But you know what else builds confidence for a team that’s only scored in 1 of their last 8 games? Giving away a ball in your own defensive zone and handing the home team the lead.
In the 23rd minute, Jose Martinez played a ball with his head back to Jakob Glesnes being pressured by Lorenzo Insigne. The ball took one bounce and came at an awkward height for Glesnes which required him to extend in order to get a touch on the ball. Unfortunately, the touch went right to Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio who played Deandre Kerr into the box. Kerr cut the ball back to Insigne waiting wide open just above the 6-yard box and one-touched the ball into the back of the net to give Toronto an early lead.
At first, this one looked to be mostly on Jakob Glesnes, but after taking a few more looks I don’t think the pass from Martinez put Glesnes in a great position to begin with being under pressure so close to an own goal. But if you’re going to make that pass, it has to be spot on in order to give your defender an opportunity to deal with the pressure. Unfortunately, the pass wasn’t perfect and Glesnes had to make an uncomfortable play on it, and from there the defense was scrambling to recover.
Injury forces change in the first half – Union draw level before the break
In the 33rd minute, Leon Flach went down with an injury and would eventually be replaced by Jack McGlynn. Leon Flach has been battling a groin injury all season long and appeared to have tweaked something in the same area. It’s a concern for Union that he’s battling this injury that’s clearly affected his form, and now could keep him out of the lineup for some more time.
Toronto had an opportunity to extend the lead before the half in the 36th minute when a ball played from Andre Blake’s left by Bernardeschi found the head of Petretta who rose over Mbaizo to get an attempt on net, but Andre Blake was able to extend towards the bottom corner to push the ball away safely for a corner.
Though they were down 1-0 and conceding 57% of the possession in the first half, Union were still getting themselves in position to strike. They outperformed Toronto in xG(Expected Goals) by a total of 1.72 to 0.94 in the first half, and out-shoot them 10-6. Union missed 2 big chances in the half and probably would have been disappointed to go into the break down 1-0, but just before half, Union drew one back.
Olivier Mbaizo restarted play from a throw-in to Mikael Uhre, who turned towards the net and flicked the ball towards the middle with his right foot coming from the Toronto keeper’s left-hand side. The ball glanced ever so slightly off Ale Bedoya’s head and deflected off the hands of Romero but directly towards the back post, finding Juliana Carrana awaiting a tap-in to bring Union level. It was a big goal that erased the frustration of the first half and allowed Union a clean slate to go out and get all 3 points from the second half.
A slow start to the second half burns Union
Alright cool – so the last first-half goal by Carranza brings Union level and they’re in a good position to go out and get an early second-half goal and they’re well on their way to bringing 3 points back to Philadelphia…until the idea was blown up before the clock hit the 60-minute mark.
In the 58th minute, Franklin played a ball that sent Bernardeschi in behind Kai Wagner along the right side of the pitch. Wagner almost cut off the through ball, but it was able to slip past him and spring Toronto on the attack. Bernardeschi cut the ball back and sent a pass back to the middle, in a very similar fashion to Insigne’s goal in the first half, and the ball was deflected by a recovering Jack Elliott. But the deflection wasn’t enough to push the ball to safety and instead fell straight to Denadre Kerr, who slid the ball under Andre Blake to give Toronto the 2-1 lead.
This goal was really frustrating, it’s one Union cut out 99 out of 100 times without sensing any sort of threat. Kai Wagner typically gets to that through ball before Bernardeschi has a chance to get behind the defense. Jack Elliot typically recovers for Wagner if he does miss cutting out that pass and gets the ball away to safety. But both players were a step late on Wednesday, and the deflection by Elliott took a back-tracking Glesnes completely out of the play and left Andre Blake out to dry. I can’t help but feel that a fresh and non-fatigued Union team defends this better.
Just 5 minutes later, before Union could even sniff an equalizer, Toronto doubled their lead to fill Union’s head with doubt. Franklin with way too much time on the ball outside the box lofted a ball into the penalty area, and all 3 Union defenders played spectator while the ball went right past them and connected with the head of Jonathan Osorio to give Toronto a 3-1 lead. 2 minutes later, Bernardeschi had Kai Wagner and Jack Elliott scrambling in a spin cycle to try and stop Toronto from getting a 4th, and lucky for them Bernardeschi’s attempt fizzed just wide of the post to keep it at 3-1.
I will give Union some credit, they didn’t completely lay down and die despite being down 2 goals on the road in such a busy season it’d be easy to take the rest of the night off. But they did create some chances to get back into the game. The biggest of which came in the 79th minute when Jack Elliott got a header on net from a corner kick, but the attempt rang off the crossbar.
The ball rebounded out to Jesus Buneo, who attempted to volley to ball while mid-air, but the half-contacted ball with pushed away by the hand of Romero to keep the score where it was. That felt like the chance Union needed in order to have a chance to level the game before time ran out, but luck wasn’t on their side Wednesday night.
Frustration leads Union to a sticky situation on Sunday
From that point on, it was only frustration for both Union and their fans. Both are allowed to be frustrated, I think. Such a positive performance on Saturday was erased so quickly by a stinker on the road in Toronto against one of the league’s worst and under-performing teams. It IS frustrating, and the players SHOULD be frustrated by that. But they’ve got to keep that frustration to themselves and not take it out on the pitch, and unfortunately that got away from someone that’s received such high praises lately.
Jesus Buneo, a guy who’s really grown into his role this season, has taken a huge step up in his career and has been rewarded lately with some starting time, goals, and being called up to Venezuela. He’s been given lots of praise lately and he’s so deserving of that. But he’s still a relatively young player and young players have learning moments, and hopefully, he can learn from the one at the end of Wednesday night’s game. Jesus Buneo received the ball inside Toronto’s box, was forced to dribble out toward the sideline in a double team, and thought he was fouled while attempting to dribble out of trouble.
When no foul was called and Petretta was able to come away from the contact with the ball, Bueno rushed up and took a clear swing with his left foot at the leg of Petretta, which drew a crowd and some pushing from members of both teams. Right in the middle of that of course, was Jose Martinez, who never shies away from a scuffle. But because of that, Martinez was shown a yellow card, and will in turn miss Sunday’s match at home against the Red Bulls with a yellow card accumulation suspension.
To make matters worse, Jesus Bueno’s original yellow for his kick-out of Petretta was overturned to a Red card after a VAR review. So now not only will Union miss both Jesus Buneo and Jose Martinez on Sunday night, but Leon Flach may also miss the match with an injury as well.
“That Midfield depth we talked about(in earlier press conferences), I think we cursed it because now it’s gone”Jim Curtin Postgame Press Conference
Looking Forward – keeping a hazy horizon from turning into a slippery slope
To add salt to the wound, FC Cincinnati scored 2 late goals against Atlanta to give themselves a 2-1 win, becoming the first team to punch their ticket to this year’s playoffs, and keeping their Supporters Shield lead at 10 points. It’s a really big bummer for Union to lose this game, just when fans were starting to believe the Supporters Shield was still in reach.
Now Union finds themselves at 4th in the east, and 14 points off of the shield. It’s probably safe to say that’s another trophy now gone for Union. But now they’ve got to turn around and play Red Bulls at home on Sunday with nobody to play the 6 at the moment in order to keep a one-game lapse from turning into multiple before the International Break. It wasn’t the way Union liked to play on Wednesday, and Curtin was open about that in his press conference following the match:
“Some uncharacteristic errors from guys today, but in those moments you can still be hard to play against, that’s usually what we’re best at. But tonight we were not hard enough to play against. We’re again, a team that isn’t going to step on the field and just win games. We don’t have players that the opponents are terrified of, so we all collectively have to be good on the day to get a good result. And overall tonight was just not good enough.”Jim Curtin Postgame Press Conference
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