It was a memorable run, but in sports the most important run is still the one at the end of the season. Alejandro Pozuelo’s second-half goal ended the Philadelphia Union’s six-game unbeaten streak as Toronto FC beat the Union 2-1 at BMO Field Saturday night. The Union suffered their first loss since last December’s Eastern Conference Finals but still hold the top spot in the East.
For the second game in a row, the Union put out their strongest lineup with the strike partnership of Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza in front of Daniel Gazdag, who ranks second in MLS in non-penalty expected goals. Andre Blake, voted Man of the Match for his performance against Columbus, stood between the pipes in the midst of his club-record four-game shutout streak. Toronto countered with former MLS Player of the Year Alejandro Pozuelo and US international Michael Bradley in center midfield, while Chris Mavinga filled in at center back for Mexican international Carlos Salcedo, who was serving a red-card suspension.
The Union nearly jumped on the board early when Jack Elliott got on the end Kai Wagner’s corner minutes into the game, but the ball skipped just before Elliott pushed the half-volley over the bar. Three minutes later, Wagner turned a Toronto defender and slipped a ball in front of the goal inches beyond an outstretched Carranza. The Union had four corners in the first eight minutes, and on the fourth, Bedoya volleyed a deflected clearance on target that was saved by Toronto keeper Alex Bono.
Toronto teenager Jayden Nelson got involved in the action at both ends on the quarter-hour. His quick shot from outside the box was pushed aside by Andre Blake minutes before he came in high on a studs-up challenge across Wagner’s knee. The Toronto homegrown and former Canadian Youth Player of the Year was lucky not to be sent off, yet somehow the play was never sent to referee Alex Chilowicz for video review.
The Union struck first in the 34th minute when Carranza headed home Uhre’s cross on an odd-man break. Uhre broke free down the left side and cut the ball back to Gazdag, who froze the center backs and played the ball back to Uhre. Then Uhre sent a delicate first-time chip to the far post that Carranza headed past Bono. The goal was Carranza’s second on the season.
The lead only lasted five minutes when Jesús Jiménez punished the visitors after a José Martinez giveaway. Toronto combined around several Union defenders, and when the ball fell to Jiménez, he curled the ball around Blake into the far corner for his fourth of the season.
More importantly, the goal snapped the Union’s club-record shutout streak after 457 minutes. The Union bounced back two minutes later when Wagner fired a volley off a cleared corner from the top of the box that beat Bono, but the goal was called back after video review showed Carranza obstructing Bono in an offside position. Despite the disallowed goal, the Union were more vibrant in all phases of the game throughout the first half and kept their composure as the Toronto players attempted to draw reactions with several chippy fouls toward the end of stoppage time.
Toronto came out in the second half with more aggression, and Pozuelo gave Toronto the lead in the 51st minute when he dribbled into the Union box, past four Union defenders, and tucked the ball beyond Blake at the far post. Pozuelo scored his second goal of the season, but for the second time of the night, the Union’s passive defending inside the box led to a soft goal.
Uhre came close twice to leveling the score in the next ten minutes. In the 60th minute, he turned a through-ball with a half-step on the defense into a breakaway, but his shot was stopped by Bono. On the second chance, Uhre broke free down the right side, but Bono kicked his wide-angled shot away.
The Union had another chance to tie the game off a 71st -minute corner. Elliott won a clean header toward the goalmouth that bounced around with several swiped attempts from Sergio Santos and Uhre before Bono scooped the ball off the ground. Jack McGlynn had a chance from the top of the box six minutes later, but he pulled his shot inches wide of the post.
In the final ten minutes, Toronto dropped to a five-back setup, and the Union saw more of the ball as they pressed harder for an equalizer. But the Eastern Conference leaders could not pull together enough passes to find another goal. Despite the snapped streaks, the Union still played well enough to win on the road and appeared the stronger side.
The Union will be back home next Saturday when they host Montréal FC before a difficult string of games to come.
PHI: Carranza 34’
TOR: Jiménez 39’
TOR: Pozuelo 51’
TOR: Nelson 20’
TOR: Pozuelo 30’
TOR: Bradley 45+1’
PHI: Carranza 53’
TOR: Chung 76’
Union: Blake, Harriel, Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner, Martinez, Bedoya (Aaronson 87’), Flach (McGlynn 69’), Gazdag, Uhre (Burke 77’), Carranza (Santos 68’)
Unused subs: Freese, Real, Mbaizo, Findlay, Sullivan
Toronto FC: Bono, Chung (MacNaughton 79’), Mavinga, O’Neill, Nelson (Kerr 45’), Bradley, Osorio (Thompson 56’), Shaffelberg, Pozuelo, Petrasso (Petruzza 72’), Jiménez
Unused subs: Westberg, Pearlman, Antonoglou, Akinola, Achara