The Philadelphia Union made their return to the playoffs for the first time in five years following an extremely rough period of numerous disappointing seasons. Entering Toronto as the 6th seed, they were underdogs and while the Union did not disgrace themselves in embarrassing fashion they were outplayed by a superior team en route to a 3-1 defeat and elimination from the 2016 MLS Cup.
Following a somewhat jittery start to the match, the Philadelphia Union conceded a goal they most certainly will have wish they had not conceded. Jozy Altidore's awkward first touch had given Ken Tribbett an easy clearance opportunity, however the Union defender made a mess of it ostensibly chipping it back to Altidore for a run at goal. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake charged out to Altidore to try and make a play, but it turned out to be a regrettable decision as Altidore was able to send it to Sebastian Giovinco alone in the middle of the box. Giovinco was faced with an open net, and though the Toronto star's finish looked awkward it was effective in placing the ball into the net, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead 15 minutes in.
After conceding the first goal, the Union continued to play most of the match fending off Toronto's forays. Though Toronto scored no more 1st half goals, they came close on a couple of occasions. First a corner kick found the head of Nick Hagglund who flipped the ball to Drew Moor near the post, however Blake was able to get there in time for a great reactionary save. Minutes later, the ever-dangerous Giovinco got a dangerous free kick opportunity that he beautifully elevated over a four-person wall and past Blake, though he could only find side-netting in the end, giving Union fans a huge sense of relief.
The Union finished the first half with only three shots and one on target, a rather ineffective header from C.J. Sapong that Clint Irwin easily handled. It was not the most discouraging of performances the Union have ever given, but against a team the skill of Toronto it was not enough and the Union entered the break deservedly trailing 1-0.
The second half started quickly and with a bang for Toronto. After Fabinho conceded a corner kick to Toronto, the home side took advantage of their opportunity. The corner kick went by three Union defenders and deflected off a falling Nick Hagglund. While Hagglund himself was unable to intentionally do anything with it, his falling down along with a host of Union defenders abandoning Jonathan Osorio set up Osorio for an easy goal when the ball fell to him. No Union defender was near the Toronto midfielder, and they paid for it as a result by going down 2-0.
The 59th minute introduction of Ilsinho for Fabian Herbers gave the Union some glimmer of hope. The Union possessed the ball much more than they had been doing in the first half and began generating some more shots. Eventually the Union's work paid off in the 73rd minute off a corner kick. Tranquillo Barnetta's corner kick initially found Tribbett who headed it to Ilsinho who headed it to Richie Marquez who headed it to the feet of Alejandro Bedoya and the Union's prized mid-season acquisition sent it past Irwin into the net to half Toronto's lead and give the Union a fighting chance in the final 17 minutes to force the tie the match and force extra time.
Unfortunately though for the Union on this night, hope was nothing more than a four-letter word. In the 85th minute Altidore tried to play Giovinco through for a breakaway however Giovinco struggled with the ball and with three Union players near him the Italian forward found Altidore in the box whose first touch failed him and gave Tribbett an easy clearance opportunity. However, Tribbett once again made a mess with the clearance and he accidentally sent the ball right back to Altidore inside the box. Altidore capitalized and fired the ball past Blake for Toronto's game-clinching 3rd goal.
Despite losing 3-1 in the playoffs and having some glaring weaknesses particularly in central defense, the Philadelphia Union have a lot to look forward to with Earnie Stewart at the helm leading the off-season. The Union were in a real bad spot from 2012-2015 and while the Union are not at championship level yet, they have some building blocks in place and with a seemingly savvy front office that knows there is still work to be done, the Union should be in a good-spot looking forward to 2017.
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