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Match Report: Union 1-1 Toronto FC

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TghtHNH6Z0U[/youtube]

Sebastien Le Toux’s first half strike was not enough to see the Philadelphia Union through to victory in their final home game of the regular season as Toronto FC’s Ryan Johnson ruined the party for the hosts with a 57th minute equalizer. While the Union’s unbeaten streak now stands at eight games, the draw will be seen as a disappointment for the Union.

The silver lining is that they have clinched their first ever playoff spot.

Attempting to ride the momentum of their emphatic 2-0 road win in Seattle, the Union started brightly as they took advantage of Toronto’s defensive stance, bringing a well deserved 1-0 lead into the half, courtesy of Le Toux’s excellently taken opener. However, the Union could not turn the offensive tap back on after they took their foot off the gas and conceded the equalizer.

The Dragon returns

Riding a seven game unbeaten streak into their final home game of the season, manager Peter Nowak made only one change, showing faith in the lineup that returned with a vital victory in the Emerald City a week ago. The change, however, was a big one as the Union welcomed back captain Faryd Mondragon from injury. While Zac MacMath deputized well in the Colombian shot stopper’s absence, including the clean sheet in Seattle, he gave way for the man whose leadership and organizational ability solidified the Union’s defense throughout the team’s second season.

Of the visitors, all eyes were expected to be on Danny Koevermans, the Dutchman who had tallied seven goals for a rejuvenated Toronto FC entering the match. But he did not get the start and manager Aron Winter elected to deploy an extremely defensive–minded unit with German international Torsten Frings lining up as a third centerback in an unconventional 5–2–3 formation.

Let down? What let down?

Any concerns that the Union might let down following two straight weeks of West Coast travel were quickly dispelled with Sebastien Le Toux, Justin Mapp and Michael Farfan featuring prominently in the early going. Mapp’s energy level in particular was on display as he attacked the final third and drove teasing crosses into the box, with Freddy Adu laying off the second effort to an onrushing Sheanon Williams whose shot required a  fine stop from Toronto keeper Milos Kocic.

Danny Califf: Seek and Destroy

On the other end, Ryan Johnson tried to lead from the front, but Danny Califf set the early tone with a crunching tackle as he cleanly won the ball while leaving Johnson in a heap.

In the 10th minute, the Union almost found the breakthrough when Le Toux’s delicate back-heel sent Mapp racing to the end line, but his squared ball to Michael Farfan could only be deflected agonizingly wide of Kocic’s far post.

Danny Califf was at his best again in the 15th minute when Joao Plata skipped by Carlos Valdes and Califf’s perfectly timed intervention canceled out the threat from Toronto’s diminutive winger.

With Toronto dropping numbers behind the ball, the Union continued to press forward but struggled with their timing. Sebastien Le Toux twice ran offside in close succession as the Union midfield struggled to release their red-hot talisman.

The Union continued to build pressure with possession higher up the field and when Michael Farfan was hauled down near the corner of the box, Freddy Adu stepped up and powered a strong effort that Kocic did well to touch around the post.

Vejlko Paunovic nearly got the Union opener as a knockdown header in the box fell at his feet. But with the goal begging, Paunovic lashed his left-footed drive wide of the target.

Union hit the front

In the 42nd minute, just as it seemed both teams would accept a 0-0 halftime scoreline, the Union finally made Toronto pay. Kocic saw his goal kick come right back at him with Justin Mapp finding Le Toux wide open in the middle of the pitch. With time to turn, compose himself and fire, Le Toux made no mistake, curling his shot beyond the keeper’s finger tips and sending the Union in to the locker room with a valuable one goal lead.

IT’S A TRAP!

Despite controlling the possession, territory and scoreboard in the first half, the Union dropped Michael Farfan back alongside Brian Carroll in a more defensive 4-2-3-1, making no halftime substitutions. Where they had been on the front foot going into the locker room, the Union sat back and let Toronto attack as the second stanza began. Johnson was proving a handful as Toronto pressed forward and the withdrawn Union struggled to rediscover the possession they had so dominated in the first half.

In the 57th minute, Ryan Johnson earned the reward for his hard work as he shook free of Carlos Valdes to flick Nick Soolsma’s cross beyond a helpless Faryd Mondragon.

It was a dagger for the Union. Jack McInerney was soon substituted for the ineffective Freddy Adu as the Union attempted to turn the tide and push for a winner. McInerney almost announced his presence with a goal after two minutes when he alertly got on the end of a dazzling piece of work from Sheanon Williams. Despite being knocked down on the play, Williams regained his feet and weaved his way through multiple Toronto defenders before playing McInerney into space, only for the Union attacker to see his shot smothered by Kocic.

Everything but the back of the net

Next it was Paunovic who almost put the Union back in front, taking down a Gabriel Farfan cross and volleying on net without allowing the ball to touch the turf. But for the second straight week, Paunovic was robbed by an excellent save with Kocic reacting quickly to push the ball over the bar.

The Union continued to ring the offensive changes with Danny Mwanga coming on in the 72nd minute and Roger Torres entering the fray in the 76th. Fans delighted in Mwanga’s return from a hip flexor injury, though on this night, he could not conjure any late game magic.

As the game wore towards its conclusion the Union continued to pound the Toronto box, but could not carve out the clear cut chance they needed to secure all three points. Philadelphia now go into Thursday’s grudge match against New York knowing they must secure three points if they are to take the Eastern Conference.

10 Comments

  1. I think Pauno needs to not start anymore. I musta heard Taylor say this 20 times, but we can’t keep on putting Le Toux on an island up there. We can’t except him to run around, collect the ball, then drive into the box all by himself. He needs to look up and see his second striker as high as him and available for the pass.
    Jack Mac or Mwanga please.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Also, I was at the game and did not think that Mapp played particularly well (aside from one or two crosses). He seemed to be a turnover machine and was constantly getting dispossessed. Wish we had Keon back to start on the wing instead.

      • Yeah that too… though Nowak CLEARLY likes him and CLEARLY thinks he should be in our starting 11, which depresses me so much I don’t even feel like talking about Mapp anymore.
        Needless to say he must be the most under performing player in MLS history. Ain’t that why his old team wanted to get rid of him too?

      • I actually thought Mapp played pretty well. Had an assist to Le Toux, made some terrific runs and played a great ball across to adu that was touched on to williams for a shot. I don’t like him generally but he was very good yesterday. Pauno wasn’t bad either, getting denied from close range on a brilliant touch and shot.

        We actually played rather well. Poor performances from Adu, Torres, and Mwanga. Liked what I saw from Jack Mac though with some great runs and hustle off the bench.

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  3. Mondragon:6.5
    Williams:8
    Valdes:7
    Calliff:8
    Garfan:5.5
    Caroll:6
    Marfan:6
    Adu:5.5
    Paunovic:6
    Mapp:6.5
    Le Toux:8

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