The Philadelphia Union traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, Toronto’s temporary home at Rentschler Field at Pratt and Whitney Stadium, and fell 2-1 after two second-half goals by Ayo Akinola and Alejandro Pozuelo.
Sergio Santos scored a wonder chip to stun the hosts in the opening minutes, but the Union were outplayed in the second half as Toronto came from behind like they did against the Columbus Crew in their 3-1 win Sunday night.
The Union dropped to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, but will need a rapid turnaround as they will play three games in a little more than a week. With the win, Toronto jumped ahead of the Union and took hold of second place despite being level on points with Columbus after their draw against FC Dallas.
“It was a tough night, obviously two very good teams getting after it,” Union coach Jim Curtin said after the game. “After we gave up the early goal, we absorbed a lot of pressure. We knew a quality team like Toronto would come at us.”
The Union were hoping to build on their convincing 3-0 win over Inter Miami last Sunday and close the gap on Columbus for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Captain Alejandro Bedoya returned to the lineup after a one-game suspension, and Matt Real and Olivier Mbaizo started as the outside backs in place of the injured Kai Wagner and Ray Gaddis. Andre Blake made his 139th start for the Union and is now fourth among club leaders after passing Sheanon Williams. Brenden Aaronson and Kacper Przybylko both made their 40th starts for the club.
Toronto started MLS Player of the Month Pozuelo, who has a league-leading nine assists on the season. The Spanish playmaker has been touted by many as an early favorite for the league MVP. U.S. international Jozy Altidore started up top with former La Liga Best XI Pablo Piatti attacking down one side and Canadian youth international Akinola on the other side. Defender Richie Laryea was named Player of the Week after three points in Toronto’s win over the Crew. Canadian international, Jonathan Osorio, the captain and club leader in appearances, also started in the midfield.
Sergio Santos opened the scoring in the 5th minute with an exquisite chip to put the guests on top. Bedoya volleyed a Toronto clearance first-time toward Santos, who beat two Toronto defenders and with a tight angle, clipped the ball over Quentin Westberg with a lovely touch of delicacy into the far corner. The goal was Santos’ third of the season. Two minutes later, Toronto almost scored the equalizer on a Toronto corner in which two poor Union clearances kept the ball alive. Jakob Glenes’ header fell to Chris Mavinga, but Blake made a good near-post save to deny the Toronto center back.
Toronto absorbed the early goal and responded with a great deal of possession as they showed their class opening up the game and putting the Union on the defensive. Pozuelo was the creator multiple times, attacking from all sides, but the Union back four held strong.
The Union nearly doubled their lead against the run of play thirty minutes in when Jamiro Monteiro’s curled shot from the top of the box was tipped off the crossbar by Westberg then Westberg stuffed Przybylko’s rebound. Toronto was forced to make an early change when Justin Morrow went off due an injury and was replaced by Tony Gallacher, who arrived this season after two years playing for Liverpool’s reserves. Toronto had a few half chances late in the first half, but several wide crosses into the box were cleared away by Glesnes and McKenzie, who were dominant in the Union penalty area and controlled Altidore all first half.
The second half began with more Toronto pressure down the sides but time and again, the Union were able to clear every entry pass. Altidore came off six minutes into the second half with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Nick DeLeon, and afterwards the Union weathered the storm after the half’s opening minutes as Toronto began to gain more of the ball toward the middle stages.
Toronto tied the game in the 58th minute when Akinola headed home a cross from Gallacher, who took a long ball, attacked down the left side, and whipped in a cross to the back post. Akinola beat McKenzie after drifting behind the Union defender and attacked the ball with a powerful header that brushed Blake’s fingertips. Akinola’s goal was his 7th of the season.
Piatti had a good look minutes after the goal but his shot missed high, and the Union countered with a chance of their own, but Bedoya’s cross skipped through the goalmouth before anyone could get a touch. Piatti nearly scored the go-ahead in the 70th minute when he redirected Laryea’s cross into the side netting.
But Pozuelo put Toronto ahead fifteen minutes before the end when he was left free off a deflected corner and headed the ball into the net. Several Union players, including José Martinez were caught watching the initial challenge that found Pozuelo with at least ten feet of grass between him and the closest defender. Pozuelo’s goal was his 7th of the season, tied for the team lead with Akinola, and was his fourth straight game with a goal.
“It was like slow motion,” Curtin said about the goal. “You could see José, who’s marking Pozuelo, he wants to try to help the team and loses a little bit of discipline in an attempt to win the ball. Unfortunately, it bounces to the best player on the field.”
Przybylko had a good chance to pull the Union even when he cut inside and curled a shot to the far post, but the distance was too great and Westberg was able to dive to his left and smother the ball. Piatti almost added to Toronto’s lead minutes before the end when his well-struck left-footed shot missed wide. The Union switched Andrew Wooten for Matt Real late in an effort to press in the final minutes, and Bedoya’s strong header in extra time was the best chance at the end, but it went straight at Westberg on the goal line.
“We weren’t quite sharp enough against a really good team,” Curtin said. “It’s difficult to lose, but it happens, and how you respond now after a loss is what’s most important.”
The Union are back in action against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night at Subaru Park, hoping to make amends from the previous draw on the narrow turf field of Nippert Stadium.
PHL: Santos 5’
TOR: Akinola 58’
TOR: Pozuelo 76’
PHL: Martinez 83’
Blake, Mbaizo, Glesnes, McKenzie, Real (Wooten 86’), Martinez, Monteiro, Bedoya, Aaronson (Fontana 66’), Santos (Ilsinho 71’), Przybylko
Unused Subs: Bendik, Elliott, Collin, Oravec, Ngalina
Westberg, Laryea, Gonzalez, Mavinga, Morrow (Gallacher 39’), Delgado, Osorio, Piatti (Endoh 86’), Pozuello, Akinola (Mullins 86’), Altidore (DeLeon 53’)
Unused Subs: Bono, Ciman, Fraser, Gallardo, Nelson