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Game Changers: Seeing Red

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There was plenty for Philadelphia Union fans to be upset about in Saturday’s loss to Toronto FC. Let’s dissect it, shall we?

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

1.) Ken Tribbett starting over Josh Yaro - It’s hard to overstate how big this was. Tribbett had a decent enough game against the New England Revolution, and that was the reasoning Union boss Jim Curtin gave during the post-game press conference as to why he started Tribbett.

I can see where Curtin is coming from but while you can impose your will on a team like New England, Toronto is a much different beast. Toronto’s attack focuses on the strength of Jozy Altidore and the speed and skill of Sebastian Giovinco, and to combat that conventional wisdom dictates you play a center back with size and strength and one with speed to counter out the dual threat.

The Union could have gone into the match with that setup, however opted to put Richie Marquez on Jozy Altidore (right call) and Ken Tribbett on Sebastian Giovinco (wrong call). Marquez matched up fairly well on Altidore, but Tribbett was no match for Giovinco (and in all fairness to Tribbett, not many MLS center backs are). Here’s how it played out.

2.) Atomic meltdown - Tribbett’s struggles with the Atomic Ant didn’t take long to surface. Goalkeeper (and Reading United alum) Alex Bono played a long ball down the field to Jozy Altidore. Altidore was well covered by Richie Marquez (or Richcie Marquez, if you prefer), so Altidore’s only play was to chest the ball back to Marky Delgado. Delgado looked downfield and this is what he saw:

Sebastian Giovinco should not be that wide open ever. Had Tribbett been playing closer up toward center, he could have kept Giovinco from going so deep or risk going offside. Rosenberry is too far out to help out, and Warren Creavalle had no choice but to play Steven Beitashour, who was further upfield than a normal center back. That left a very unfavorable situation for Ken Tribbett and the Union.

Credit Delgado for seeing this mismatch and getting a great crossing pass over to Giovinco, and credit Giovinco for an inch-perfect strike that rattled off of two posts and in to give Toronto the lead.

2.) Tribbett strikes back - It wasn’t all bad for Ken Tribbett. While he was torched by Giovinco on the goal above, it was Giovinco that torched him and not some hack. He did redeem himself by drawing the Union level off of this Tranquillo Barnetta free kick.

Barnetta and Giovinco are really in a class by themselves in MLS when it comes to free kicks. Both men are so dangerous on them, and Drew Moor came in on an ill-advised challenge to set this one up. Clear foul, and he’s lucky Mark Geiger kept his cards in his pocket on this occasion. And good on Tribbett for scoring his first MLS goal!

3.) Everything falls apart - This was a goal that never should have happened. This starts when Eriq Zavaleta kicks one upfield to Marky Delgado. Fabinho runs through Delgado, and the foul is called.

Just kidding, Fabinho barely touched Delgado.

If only the linesman had been present along the sidelines to see what went down.

Oh. Well it’s from the right side of the field so at least Giovinco isn’t taking the free kick, it’ll be Michael Bradley. Not much harm in that, right?

Crap. Drew Moor - the guy that should have been on a yellow card - pulls a Ken Tribbett and heads the ball in off of a free kick. This goal took the wind out of the Union’s sails. Prior to this, the Union had fight. The Tribbett goal seemed to give the club a lift, but this brought everything crashing down.

As much as we love to hate him, don’t blame Mark Geiger for this one. He was in the center of the field and didn’t have a good view of this as Fabinho shielded him from viewing it fully. Geiger had no choice but to rely on the linesman on this one. It’s the linesman who botched this one, ultimately setting the Union up to concede.

4.) Altidore in a china shop - Jozy Altidore is not an easy guy to stop. He’s a rare combination of raw strength and deft skill on the ball - think Conor Casey in his prime. One of the most successful tactics is to have center backs who are strong and can look to at least make getting a good shot off a challenge. One of the benefits of having Ken Tribbett in the lineup instead of Josh Yaro is that Tribbett brings physicality where Yaro brings speed. Earlier I was saying how Yaro’s speed was needed against a guy like Giovinco, and while that’s still true you have to think that at least Tribbett could help Richie Marquez on shutting down the physical Altidore - especially when Toronto runs plays where Giovinco and Altidore cross. No need for the center backs to switch sides when they’re both about as good with Altidore and about as exposed with Giovinco, right?

Tribbett simply can’t let himself get outmuscled here. Yes, at 6’0” and 175 pounds Altidore is a big dude. Yes, Creavalle should have dropped back with Jonathan Osorio and could perhaps have helped Tribbett (although down a goal you understand why he stays up in the play a bit), and yes perhaps Marquez could have come over closer to where Osorio and Altidore are and helped on the play, but it comes down to Altidore just out-muscling Tribbett, who is 6’2” and 170.

5.) Yaro on for Tribbett - Jim Curtin pulled the plug on Ken Tribbett at the half and put in Josh Yaro. While it was the right call, it was also one less sub the Union had in their arsenal when trying to mount a comeback. Warren Creavalle came off for Roland Alberg in the 62nd minute, and Fabian Herbers came on for Ilsinho in the 74th, but what if the Union were able to pull say Tranquillo Barnetta or even Alejandro Bedoya for Charlie Davies as well? Would the extra attacker have been able to pull one back? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that Toronto didn’t score at all during the second half of the match. While Giovinco and company had a few good looks at goal, nothing really materialized and the second half was rather boring compared to the four goal outburst in the first.

6.) Geiger gonna Geiger - While the Moor goal wasn’t on Mark Geiger, this sequence after the half was classic Geiger material. Count how many fouls you see in this.

Stick to teaching math in New Jersey, Mark.
Stick to teaching math in New Jersey, Mark.

I counted two - one on Justin Morrow for holding Ilsinho back on the pass back from Bedoya and one on Steven Beitashour for pushing CJ Sapong into Eriq Zavaleta. The one I didn’t see was the one Mark Geiger called on Chris Pontius. Obviously Pontius should have done better with that first touch, although Zavaleta was trying to clear it out and it wasn’t going to be easy to corral it, but whatever Geiger saw to call on the Union is beyond me.

7.) Reds menace - Perhaps the most fearsome unit in MLS is the Toronto FC defense. While overshadowed constantly by the glitz and glamour of the Altidore - Giovinco show, this Toronto defense is one of the best in MLS, and they showed how in the second half. The Union dominated possession in the second half, and took a lot of shots at Alex Bono, but most were poor quality shots that made for easy saves or to make people holding beer in the River End have to watch out for screamers heading their way. Toronto knew the Union was going to come at them with a lot of offensive firepower, and TFC bunkered and smothered the Union. Even in the .gif above you can see how many men in white are back defending (seven behind the ball at the start). Down one was okay, but down two to this unit and there was no shot.

Was there anything I missed? Let us know in the comments section below!