The Philadelphia Union were the better team in a freezing cold game against Toronto FC, but a missed penalty kick by Alejandro Bedoya cost the boys in blue 2 points as they settled for a 2-2 draw.
Union starting XI: Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Oguchi Onyewu, Keegan Rosenberry; Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin; Chris Pontius, Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Herbers; Jay Simpson
Toronto FC starting XI: Clint Irwin; Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund; Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley, Armando Cooper, Justin Morrow; Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco
It was the home opener and it was cold. It was perhaps the coldest match ever played at Talen Energy Stadium. The kind of weather that justifies Major League Soccer’s spring-to-fall schedule. The wind was blowing but at the least the sun was shining at the 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
The cold didn’t hold back the Union though as they came out looking very strong from the start. They consistently stole possession of the ball from the Reds and created chances. And it was only matter of time before the Union would take the lead when Jay Simpson scored his first MLS goal in the 10th minute. Chris Pontius dropped a header toward Simpson, who bent down and headed it past Toronto GK Clint Irwin. Unfortunately for Simpson, his day ended 19 minutes later when he sustained a rib injury and had to be replaced with C.J. Sapong.
The Union had a great opportunity to build on their lead when Fabian Herbers got pulled down just inside the box in 33rd minute. But the chance was blown when Bedoya’s penalty kick sailed a little too high and hit the crossbar.
Toronto’s star strikers Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco were having little success getting through the Union’s defense, as Derrick Jones provided excellent cover for the Union’s back line. Giovinco’s day got worse in the 43rd minute when he injured his knee. Giovinco was driving toward the box when Oguchi Onyewu’s leg took him down. Giovinco would have to leave the game and was replaced by Tosaint Ricketts. In first-half stoppage time, Altidore took a dive in the box and Toronto was gifted a penalty kick by referee Mark Geiger. Altidore converted the PK and the Reds were happy to go into halftime with the match tied, as they were completely outplayed by the Union for the entire first half.
Toronto played better in the second half, but the boys in blue still had the edge in the run of play. Altidore had a great chance in the 56th minute when Altidore got past Onyewu, only be to be stuffed on a great save by Andre Blake. The Union got a scare in the 68th minute when Blake made a diving save on an Altidore cross and got hit in the head by the boot of Ricketts as Ricketts was chasing after the ball. After some time being examined by the Union medical personnel, he was cleared to continue in the game.
Toronto took the lead in the 71st minute when Justin Morrow found himself on the end of an arching pass from Michael Bradley taken from midfield circle. Onyewu couldn’t get in his way and Morrow deftly shot the ball past Blake.
The Reds now had an undeserved lead at 2-1, but it didn’t take long for the Union to recover when C.J. Sapong scored in the 74th minute. Herbers was running down the center of the field and slotted a nice pass into the box. Sapong caught up to it and ran around a diving Irwin for an easy look at goal to make the score 2-2.
Sapong gets the Union’s second goal. (Photo: Frank Fimmano)
Bedoya had another shot on goal in the 82nd minute, but once again he put it off the crossbar.
Herbers had a well-played game, but with game tied, Curtin decided to provide a little extra spark by subbing him out with Fafa Picault in the 78th minute. Picault provided speed, but his small stature was no match for TFC’s large defenders. Roland Alberg replaced a mostly ineffective Pontius in the 89th minute, but the Union could not find the winning goal in the 5 minutes of stoppage time.
After the match, Jim Curtin complimented the Union on “the best 45 minutes we’ve played in a while, maybe ever.” He was also critical of Geiger’s awarding of a penalty kick at the end of first half, saying, “I don’t think he was touched.”
Guys who were good: Derrick Jones had an excellent game. He was in the right places at the right times, provided good defensive cover in front of the back line, and found holes to run through when he possessed the ball. If he keeps playing like this, Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll will have a tough time getting minutes this season. Herbers also had a great showing. Onyewu wasn’t perfect, but he showed how his physical presence in the back will be an asset for the Union. For Toronto, Armando Cooper was all over the place.
Guys who weren’t so good: Pontius got the assist on Simpson’s goal, but was largely missing for parts of the match. Bedoya didn’t look bad when he was on the ball, but missing that penalty kick cost the Union 2 points in the standings.
Fafa Picault is really small. Toronto’s defenders looked like giants next to Fafa Picault. He certainly has speed, but I am wondering if he’s too small for MLS.
Michael Bradley is insane. On a bitter cold day where all the players were wearing long sleeves, Bradley had short sleeves and no gloves on. Some people might call this tough; I call it nuts. Giovinco was almost as crazy as he also had short sleeves, but at least he wore gloves.
Strikers are getting goals. As Jim Curtin noted in his press conference, it’s good to have both your top strikers get goals. The lack of striker goals was a problem for the Union in the latter half of last season.
Toronto FC is perhaps the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Union played well enough to win, but a draw against the Reds is not a bad result.