Union undone by defensive errors in troubling end to promising season

TORONTO – With their season over after Wednesday's Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs loss to Toronto FC at BMO Field, the Philadelphia Union were left with little more to do than think about what went wrong.

Obviously, Toronto had outscored them – 3-1 in this case – but that loss capped off an eight-game winless streak in which most semblances of defensive solidity had evaporated.

“They were broken plays,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said of TFC's goals after the match, “not 15-pass sequences where you tip your hat.”

On Toronto’s first goal, defender Ken Tribbett mis-kicked a clearance, slicing the ball high and back into his own box. Compounding that error, Union goalkeeper Andre Blake raced off his line to knock the ball away, but Toronto’s Jozy Altidore got there first. He chipped the ball to Sebastian Giovinco, whose volley flew into the unguarded net off the crossbar.

Toronto’s second goal came off a corner early in the second half.

“Two guys go up,” Curtin said, and Nick Hagglund “goes down.”

The ball fell to an unmarked Jonathan Osorio, who had no trouble scoring past Blake from close range.

The final goal capped off Tribbett’s nightmarish game. The Philadelphia defender once again failed to clear an Altidore shot and the US international scored with his second chance.

Tribbett and rookie Josh Yaro, who was unavailable on Wednesday night due to concussion symptoms, had shared playing time in central defense throughout the season.

Union players, however, did not blame their poor defensive performance on individual players.

“That’s not anyone,” Union winger Chris Pontius said after the match.

That assessment only raised the question of what, at a systemic level had gone wrong for Philadelphia.

“At the beginning of the year, we were solid,” Pontius said. When pressing opponents “as a team, we were fearless.”

While Philadelphia periodically disrupted Toronto’s rhythms, that consistent pressure went missing at crucial moments.

“Since I’ve been here, the goals we score are good team goals,” Alejandro Bedoya said. Echoing Curtin, he added that the goals his team conceded to TFC had not been impressive goals. They were mistakes.

“We’re a franchise moving in the right direction,” a defeated Curtin said. Indeed, the Union earned their first playoff appearance in five years. In this game, however, the ascendancy of the occasion was undermined by crucial defensive lapses. It was, in a sense, a fitting conclusion to Philadelphia’s season.

There were, Curtin concluded, “some games where we played great soccer, but down the stretch weren’t able to put it together.”