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Five things we learned in the Union’s 3-1 loss to Toronto FC

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A look at some of the takeaways from Saturday’s season opener

Morgan Tencza

Marco Fabián is going to score goals

Marco is going to take some time to develop chemistry with his new teammates, but his movements, vision and instinct to turn and shoot are going to bring fans to their feet many times this season at Talen Energy Stadium. In scoring the Union’s only goal against Toronto, a decisive penalty in the 73rd minute, he showed that he is going to be the man the Union look to to provide their offensive spark this season. He had three shots on goal and took free kicks and corners from the left. Just a few minutes after his penalty, he nearly scored again, throwing himself into a melee in front of Toronto keeper Alex Bono, with the ball barely being cleared off the line. While the result wasn’t there, you definitely can’t fault Fabián’s heart, effort or talent as he looks to be everything the Union were hoping for when they made him the highest-paid player in team history.

Jim Curtin will change formations and make attacking substitutions with the game on the line

Many fans have bemoaned the lack of tactical flexibility that was present during the rigid Earnie Stewart era, but as promised, Ernst Tanner approves of flexibility. After Michael Bradley scored again to put Toronto ahead 2-0, Curtin changed to a 3-5-2 attacking formation, bringing on strikers Sergio Santos and David Accam for right back Ray Gaddis and left mid Ilsinho. The Union responded by winning a penalty and instantly created more attacking chances.

Defensively, the team looks disorganized

As with any new change in formation and addition of new players, there is a learning curve. While the Union dominated possession, they struggled to contain Toronto’s counter and to mark late runs into the box. On both of Bradley’s goals, he came in late and completely unmarked, punishing the Union. While there is a learning curve, it is completely unacceptable to let a star player have that much space. Haris Medunjanin seemed to be the player responsible for tracking him on both occasions, and while he distributed the ball well on the offensive end, he seems to struggle as a back line-shielding number 6. Derrick Jones is the logical choice to replace Haris in that role, but strangely he wasn’t even on the game day roster. Kai Wagner, who looked good for much of the game, also had a very poor turnover in stoppage time that led to Toronto putting a third goal past Andre Blake.

Attendance is a problem

While the season started earlier than normal, and the weather was cold, people didn’t show up. The River End was about as full as it’s been in recent years, but much of the stadium had swaths of empty seats even though it was close to a sellout. Anticipation for the season has been growing and the Union have been marketing hard to be accepted as a major Philly sport, but there’s still a concerning disconnect. Hopefully winning more games and having warmer weather will bring people out, but even with a big signing like Marco Fabián, the Union continue to have their work cut out for them if they want to win their older fans back after being 19th out of the 23 teams in the league in average attendance last season.

Explanation for VAR decisions is needed

The refereeing by Nima Saghafi was questionable at best. He referenced to his ear piece on multiple occasions indicating that he was speaking to VAR Alan Kelly about a decision, but the fans never get to hear why or what decision is being made behind a closed door. Specifically, they discussed a penalty call on Kai Wagner, which was clearly and obviously not a handball as the ball was kicked into his shoulder, but the kick was still given and eventually saved by Andre Blake. After the game, the PRO crew refused a follow-up question about the decision from pool reporter Jonathan Tannenwald, of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Referees won’t always make correct calls, but the VAR review process needs to be clearer for the sake of the fans in the stadium, who are often left guessing.