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Match analysis and player ratings: Toronto FC 2-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Stephen Speer

Philadelphia Union lost their first game of the season on Saturday night. Is the sky falling?

In a word, no.

The Union played some pretty decent soccer in Toronto, winning the xG battle and generally looking the more dangerous decide. The defensive errors that led to goals were aberrations from the team’s norm, and it would be surprising if the rock-solid defense suddenly regressed.

Let’s look at three key plays from the game and then turn to the player ratings.

VAR, what is it good for? 

Absolutely nothing, apparently.

There’s no real value in dwelling on refereeing decisions. Over the course of a season, the marginal calls are generally going to even out.

But… c’mon.

That’s Toronto FC’s Jayden Nelson, going in studs-first into Kai Wagner’s knee. The tackle sent the German left back flying and left him on the turf. It was a violent tackle, and Wagner could have been seriously injured. It’s a red-card offense 99 times out of 100.

Yet Saturday night was that one outlier. The referee only saw fit to issue Nelson a yellow card… and, even more perplexingly, the Video Assistant Referee didn’t see fit to call for a monitor review.

If that’s not a clear and obvious error, it’s hard to know what is.

Defensive miscues

Only one team in MLS has allowed fewer goals than the Union — Chicago Fire — and for good reason. The Union’s defense is as disciplined and talented as any in the league. Down the spine, it boasts a dominant No. 6 in Jose Martinez, two stellar center backs in Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott, and one of the league’s best keepers in Andre Blake.

So it’s very unusual to see the Union surrender two goals like the ones they conceded on Saturday. (In fact, it was the first time they’d conceded two goals in any regular-season match since their last trip to Toronto, snapping an eight-game streak.)

The first goal begins with a bad turnover by Martinez. He picks up a loose ball just on top of the Union box and has time to take a touch and find an open man. There’s no one within ten yards of him at the time he makes the poor decision to try a one-time pass to Daniel Gazdag.

The pass is behind Gazdag and right to Jonathan Osorio, who immediately makes things happen with Jesus Jimenez. When Osorio receives the ball back, too many Union defenders crowd around Osorio to block the shot. It’s Nathan Harriel who ultimately leaves Jimenez wide open for a pretty decent finish.

Martinez gets a big share of the blame for the second goal, too, though it’s really a team-wide breakdown. When Kadin Chung gets the ball out wide, Wagner allows him to go inside rather than forcing him toward the corner. Gazdag doesn’t cut off the pass to Pozuelo, and then Martinez goes for a block that puts him on the attacker’s back. Elliott is slow to react and close down the space, and that’s all a former MLS MVP needs to put the ball in Blake’s net.

Ultimately, the Union were punished for uncharacteristic errors. Those errors are magnified when the opposing team has quality attackers and the Union’s offense is still not firing on all cylinders. No doubt manager Jim Curtin will expect to see a sharper defensive performance this week in training and this weekend against Montreal.

Player ratings

Andre Blake — 6

Not much he could have done on either goal.

Kai Wagner — 6

Very involved in all the action, good service from corners and it’s a pity his long-range goal at the end of the first half didn’t count. As mentioned above, could have done more on Chung in the buildup to the second goal.

Jakob Glesnes — 5

The better of the two defenders on the night, continues to be very stable at the heart of the backline.

Jack Elliott — 4

Should have closed down Pozuelo better on the second goal, and missed a key early chance when Wagner’s corner found his feet right in front of goal.

Nathan Harriel — 4

Not a great night for the young right back, lost his man on the first goal and failed to make much impact in the attack.

Jose Martinez — 3

At fault on both goals.

Leon Flach — 5

Another hardworking performance, would like to see him finding ways to connect with the attacking trio.

Alejandro Bedoya — 5

Ditto Flach.

Daniel Gazdag — 6

He only gets a hockey assist, but you could see his sharp decision-making in setting up Uhre for Carranza’s goal. At the heart of everything good the Union did offensively.

Mikael Uhre — 5

Hard to know what to make of Uhre. He makes the goal happen with his running and a really cultured ball for Carranza. But the finishing is just not there yet, and he wasted chances to earn a second-half point.

Julian Carranza — 6

Great positioning and good finish on the goal. Ended up the offside culprit on Wagner’s disallowed goal.


Sergio Santos 69′ — 5

The TFC killer couldn’t quite make it happen on Saturday night.

Jack McGlynn 69′ — 5

Wouldn’t mind seeing McGlynn get a start over Flach every now and then, as he clearly offers more control of the game.

Cory Burke 77′ — 5

Nearly scored with his first touch; otherwise ineffective.

Paxten Aaronson 87′ — N/A

A late cameo in place of Alejandro Bedoya. No reason the sub couldn’t have come ten minutes earlier.

Geiger Counter

Alex Chilowicz — 2

Got the biggest decision — what should have been a red on Nelson — flat wrong.


  1. UnitedPenn13 says:

    I don’t see a rating for Martinez.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    6 is about double the score Carranza should get. Yes, he did his job and finished on the goal, but that’s what he’s paid for. And it wasn’t as though he was defended well or a tough shot. But he likely cost the Union at least a point with his laziness. When the other team’s defense moves forward and puts you in an offsides position you need to either hustle to get onsides or at least move at of the keeper’s line of sight. Jogging slowly in a straight line from the keeper toward the ball was a really bad move.
    And Chilowicz deserves a 1, not a 2. Not only did he get the call wrong on Nelson, he handled the situation wrong as well. For some reason, when Kai realized he needed more treatment, he made Kai limp off the field more treatment despite the fact that he had just issued a yellow card to the aggressor. Kai had every right to stay on the field but instead Chilowicz made the Union play shorthanded for a minute or two.
    I know the coach doesn’t get a grade and I’ve seen several criticisms for his subs, but I’d like to praise one tactical thing the Union did Saturday. During the first half when the winds were at their backs, Wagner was taking corners on the left side while Gazdag took them from the right so the corners were outswingers. In the second half when the team was facing the wind, they switched and went to inswingers. While this didn’t result in a goal, I felt the corners were generally effective and led to chances.

    • Chilowicz got one point for getting the offside call on Wagner’s disallowed goal right after VAR. As you indicate in your comment, Carranza was in the way, and I think Union fans would be furious if that goal had been allowed for another team. So that’s why it’s a 2. As I’ve said before, when I do ratings, if your score is within +/- 1 of mine, we don’t really disagree.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        You can probably tell by my comment on Carranza that I agree with the offsides call. That being said, is the Geiger Counter just about the center ref or is it about the overall officiating? While I completely disagree with Chilowicz’ handling of the situation and Wagner getting medical attention, to me the lack of red was even more Gamble’s fault for not calling the play down to be looked at.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        In fairness to Carranza, Wagner’s shot caught two other Union attackers without two men between them and the goal when they were ahead of the ball, aka, offsides.
        In the bad old days before the offside rule was tweaked all three would have been off and there would have been no discussion whatsoever.

  3. Gruncle Bob says:

    There is no call if Carranza doesn’t move. 38 on Toronto was the guy who most likely screened the keeper. That said, going back to the “old rule” would fix the situation.

    But the problem I think is the structure of MLS VAR. As a system, it is simply not consistent. VAR reviews should occur at the league level by a smaller group of senior, experienced people who do nothing but VAR reviews. MLS seems to use VAR as a training ground for junior officials.

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