Before Saturday’s game against Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin stressed that he didn’t want Sebastian Giovinco to be the player that beat them.
Of course, that’s far easier said than done.
Playing without the suspended Maurice Edu -- their captain and backline leader -- the Union couldn’t stop Giovinco from tallying an assist and scoring the decisive goal in Toronto’s 2-1 home victory.
“For me, he’s the MVP of the league right now,” Curtin said. “To shut a guy down for 90 minutes is a team effort. We came up a little short today. When you go on the road, everybody has to be tuned in and sharp. And we weren’t on the day.”
With Edu out of commission due to yellow card accumulation, Curtin trotted out the young center back tandem of Ethan White and Richie Marquez to try to contain Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, who returned to Toronto’s starting lineup after being sent home from the Gold Cup.
Interestingly enough, it was the same pairing that mostly slowed Toronto down in the teams’ last meeting on May 2nd -- when Giovinco scored the game’s only goal, but on a free kick.
But this time around, the 23-year-old Marquez had a tougher day at the office as his unlucky clearance ricocheted off Marky Delgado for the first goal. And on the second goal, Giovinco followed his own shot by racing past the flat-footed Marquez to pounce on a rebound attempt and put Toronto up 2-0 just 32 minutes into the game.
The Union could never recover from the two-goal deficit with only a last-gasp stoppage-time goal from Conor Casey saving them from getting shut out.
“At times, we were just fine,” Union captain Brian Carroll said. “But for a ten-minute stretch of the first half, we let a little bit of play get away from us and they score two goals and then we’re chasing the rest of the game. We get one at the end but we just didn’t have enough quality on the day.”
The Union actually controlled more than 60 percent of the possession but could only muster two shots on target on the game -- not nearly enough when going against a team that features a red-hot player like Giovinco, who scored three goals in nine minutes on his own last week vs. New York City FC.
“To Toronto’s credit, they were organized and they were tough to break down with their block of eight that defended,” Curtin said. “Credit to them. But I think if we were a little sharper in the first half, I think we could have gotten a goal.”
As if his day wasn’t frustrating enough trying to slow down Giovinco, things ended even tougher for Marquez when he was forced to exit in the 71st minute after rolling his ankle. Andrew Wenger also had to come out early after suffering what Curtin deemed a “mild concussion,” and Cristian Maidana caused Curtin to burn another sub because he was kicked in the foot early and “was a little off” the rest of the game.
The injuries come as brutal timing for the Union, who have a quick turnaround before Tuesday’s US Open Cup game vs. the New York Red Bulls.
“We lost more than a game today,” Curtin said. “I think we lost some good players, some guys. But that’s why we have the next-man-up mentality.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.