TORONTO – Like their 2016 regular season, the Philadelphia Union’s first playoff match in five years began promisingly before succumbing to long fallow periods and a 3-1 defeat against Toronto FC.
“The first 10-15 minutes we were aggressive,” captain Tranquillo Barnetta said after his final MLS match ahead of his return to his native Switzerland. He added: “It looked to me like they were nervous. That’s the way we want to start.”
For the first five minutes, Toronto was hemmed into its own half as Philadelphia forward C.J. Sapong won a free kick seconds into the match and Chris Pontius saw his goal-bound shot blocked in the box.
“I thought the first 15 minutes we pushed the tempo and were up for it,” a subdued head coach Jim Curtin said.
Mere seconds into the 15th minute, however, all that good work came to naught. Union center back Ken Tribbett mishit a clearance into his own box. His goalkeeper Andre Blake hared off his line to contest the high ball with Toronto forward Jozy Altidore. The Toronto striker got there first, chipped the ball to his strike partner, and Sebastian Giovinco volleyed it in off the crossbar.
“Obviously it was a crazy play,” Pontius said.
After that initial setback, however, Philadelphia struggled to re-establish their pressure. The rest of the half played out frantically and unproductively in the midfield zone. Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and Sapong picked up yellow cards for Philadelphia. Toronto out-shot Philadelphia 9-3 in the half.
The Union’s pressure reappeared for long stretches of the second half.
“I wouldn’t say there’s anything we could have done differently in the second half,” Pontius said. “I liked the mentality.”
There was only problem: Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio had been left completely unmarked minutes into the half and scored Toronto’s second off a corner.
“After [the Galaxy's second goal] I think we dominated the game,” Barnetta said.
The 59th-minute arrival of Ilsinho at the expense of Fabian Herbers did add incision to the Union’s attack. Bedoya’s 73rd-minute goal off a corner represented the peak of a sustained period of Union pressure. Other chances followed.
“Unfortunately they scored a third and it was over,” Barnetta said.
Giovinco returned the favor for his strike partner Altidore in the 85th minute, and the USA forward shot over a diving Blake after Tribbett once again had failed to clear the ball.
“We find ourselves as a team in the 6th to 10th range with room to improve,” Curtin concluded. The Union had offered plenty of promise in its return to the MLS Cup Playoffs, but an inability to turn stretches of pressure into goals did them in.