A week ago the Philadelphia Union were on a high. They had just beaten a very good Portland Timbers team (although one missing some players) and were hoping to enter the U.S. Open Cup quarter-final on a high. However, that wasn't to be the case as Toronto FC rode one of their star players to a 2-1 win. What went down for this to happen?
1. Edu picking up too many yellow cards in the season.
In his 19 games for the Union this season, Maurice Edu has picked up 8 yellow cards, enough to warrant a one-game suspension. While I don't have the time to go back and look at every one of the yellow cards, I would bet they would include some where he had to take the yellow card for the good of the team. There is nothing you can do about those yellow cards other than accept them. However, I'd also bet that there were a few times he picked up stupid yellow cards for fouls in the corner or around the half way line that he had no chance of winning the ball. Those are the yellow cards that really hurt when a player of Edu's caliber is in the stands watching.
The other thing the suspension forced was Jim Curtin to play Ethan White and Richie Marquez as the center back pairing. That's a very inexperienced pairing, especially considering that Brian Sylvestre and Ray Gaddis aren't exactly experienced to help out. While Brian Carroll tried his best, the inexperience often showed throughout the game. It also raises the question, if he is healthy as has been said - where is Steven Vitoria? While Edu is back for the rest of the week's games, it is likely that Marquez will miss out due to injury. Is Ethan White giving anyone any confidence this year that the team can win with him playing?
2. The return of the missing/terrible wingers.
Last week's great performance should have been what gave Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger their confidence back, but that wasn't to be. If not for the head knock that Wenger took, you would have no idea he even played in the game as he was practically invisible on the pitch pre-injury. I was surprised he stayed in as long as he did, as it was obviously a hard knock he took. The fact he came off about ten minutes after the injury happened shows maybe the medical staff got that one wrong.
As for Le Toux, well it is a game he will want to forget. Le Toux gave the ball away so much that if he was a Toronto player he would have had a great game. In the early stages, when Philadelphia were creating more chances than Toronto, the ball came to Le Toux a few yards out. However, the Frenchman, who would have stuck it away with ease in 2010 completely whiffed his shot. Sadly, it may have been the best contact he got all game, as even when his passes found a Union player they seemed to be mishit. The only reason that Le Toux wasn't subbed off would have been the two injuries, and wanting to save Cristian Maidana for the U.S. Open Cup game.
3. Suffocate Maidana, suffocate the Union.
In a year where almost everything good for the Union has come through Maidana, it should be easy for the opposition to formulate a plan to stop that. By making sure there are two or three players around the Argentine midfielder, the lack of movement or help from the rest of t he Union means that there was nothing coming from the Union's key player. Toronto accomplished this with easy, and shut down Maidana and the Union's attack all afternoon.
The other thing that Toronto did was to give the Union players not named Maidana plenty of time with the ball. Toronto sat back and made sure that Philadelphia couldn't counter-attack, where Sebastien Le Toux may be effective. By doing that and preventing Maidana from getting the ball in space, they prevented the Union from getting chances. Despite having 61% of possession, the Union could only manage a paltry seven shots.
4. Standing still watching.
To the only real singlular game changing moment of the game, the second goal. After having yet again done well until they gave up the first goal, the Union went back to the old habit of standing watching after someone takes a shot. While it would be very harsh to blame Sylvestre for coughing up the rebound to Sebastian Giovinco's initial attempt, it isn't harsh to chastise the Union for standing around and ball-watching while Giovinco attacked the rebound.
Such a schoolkid play should never be accepted, and I hope that Jim Curtin is somehow able to stop the trend of ball-watching by Union defenders. It seems to come back and haunt the team every time they commit that particular crime.
All the hype of the foreign stars coming over centered around Frank Lampard, David Villa and later Steven Gerrard and lately Andrea Pirlo. That isn't even mentioning Kaka, who just doesn't play for a NY or LA team. However, the guy that is outperforming everyone is Giovinco. The Italian, who came to Toronto at a younger age than the others, as well as at the start of the season has been nothing short of sensational. He has scored the winning goal against Philadelphia in both games, and is rightly at the front of the pack for MVP consideration. Where as Toronto stopped Maidana from playing, Philadelphia couldn't get close to Giovinco, and he made the team pay with a goal and an assist, and could have added a second if Brian Sylvestre hadn't done well to race out and make the shot difficult in the 39th minute.
So having started the week in confident fashion, the Union are now going in to a vital game against a New York Red Bulls team who will be trying to get revenge for the apparent sleight of not changing the date of the quarter-final to suit the Red Bulls. Win and there's a semi-final on the horizon, lose and the season may trail off to nothingness before the start of September.