A gut reaction to the Philadelphia Union home opener against Toronto FC.
On a day filled with promise and excitement surrounding this Philadelphia Union team, I found myself leaving Talen Energy Stadium slightly confused. For me, a 2-2 draw against Toronto FC has never been more difficult to grasp in regards to a direct response of how I should perceive the match overall.
My entire commute home was spent in a constant loop of second guessing myself as to how I should frame this result. Arriving at the conclusion of “it was a solid point earned against an Eastern Conference juggernaut” was instantly met with the rebuttal “one point simply doesn’t seem to cut it for me”.
Normally, after sitting down and taking the time to re-watch highlights and go through the numbers, the decision becomes a bit easier for myself to make. Yet here I sit posing the question to both myself and the fans in hope of finding an answer: how should I feel about this result?
For starters let’s start with, well, the starters. Fielding the same lineup from last week’s draw at Vancouver, head coach Jim Curtin remains firm in his belief in his young, homegrown midfielder Derrick Jones playing next to Haris Mendunjanin. Quite frankly, who could blame him? The 20-year old Union academy product has looked more than comfortable in possession of the ball as well as cleaning up defensively to protect his back line.
Coming off of only five days rest, veteran centerback Oguchi Onyewu held firmly against the lethal Toronto FC attack and shut down a plethora of attacking chances created from the likes of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. He tracked the ball well in the air and showed flashes of his old self throughout the course of the evening.
And the early fruits of Jay Simpson’s labor up top as the starting striker paid off in the form of his first MLS goal coming via service from Chris Pontius. Though he left the game early with a reported minor rib injury, it’s clear that his hold up play in the attacking third is crucial in unleashing the Philadelphia attack. To top it off, his replacement in C.J Sapong also found the back of the net which is promising in itself to have two capable goal scorers at the striker position.
Still, with all these positives to be drawn on from last night, still I find myself on the fence about the outcome of this match. Perhaps dwelling on what went wrong could provide some form of clarity for myself.
In what can only be described as the perfect chance to change the direction and momentum of the game, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya rifled a crucial penalty off the crossbar which would’ve put Philadelphia up 2-0 mid-way through the first half. Despite his excessive work rate off the ball, the midfielder admits this moment in particular “could’ve made it an entirely different game” which opened up the door for the Canadian side to strike back.
Sure enough, they did pull one back. But not without being subject to a certain level of controversy that seems to follow head referee Mark Geiger every time he enters the city of Philadelphia. Toronto was awarded a penalty after Jozy Altidore went to the ground inside the box off a tackle by Derrick Jones. In review of numerous angles on the play, Jones’ attempt to stop Altidore came with a price as the American striker went down fairly easily on the play.
In short, Jim Curtin summed up the thought process of numerous fans who saw the same replay he and I did; “It wasn’t a penalty”. Needless to say the subjective standpoint of a penalty being called is one that can hardly be deemed the defining reason for the shortcomings of a team.
Toronto’s second goal came about off a quick restart of play that caught both Onyewu and Keegan Rosenberry in no man’s land within the 18-yard box. Set piece defending has always been an issue of focus for Curtin and his squad, and the opposition was granted a number of those opportunities to exploit the Union. It wasn’t until the final free kick of the game, belonging to Philadelphia, that Mark Geiger decided he’d seen enough and called the game in the midst of a clear attacking position for the Union.
A bitter end to a night of swirling emotions boiling within the confides of Talen Energy Stadium. The 16,000+ that braced the bitter cold and stood for their team almost collectively looked at each other following the final whistle and simply left the stadium. No discernible or noticeable reactions could be made out which completely contrasted the atmosphere leading up to the opening kickoff. And as I began my walk back to my car, I wondered quietly to myself “how exactly should I react?”
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I’m content in the resilient effort put forward by a squad still learning the ebb and flow of each other’s playing style after only a couple real months of collective training with each other. There were numerous passages of play that were well put together and massively challenged the Toronto defense.
I’m disappointed by the lapse of attention leading to quite a few chances for the opposition which ultimately led to the team having to settle for the 2-2 draw. While the burden of their mistakes cannot all be directly related to performance in general, there are a number of aspects within the Union style of play that can be improved in order to prevent situations like this from happening again.
To be honest, I don’t know where I stand in regards to a specific feeling about this result. Unfortunately content? Encouragingly disappointed? With so much season left to be played out, it’s just as unclear as to how this performance will affect the squad when October comes around and playoff bids are secured. Perhaps I’ll wake up tomorrow and have a more concrete position as to how I feel about this game. But I would like to pose the question to the people that truly matter in the grand scheme of this matter; the fans.
Tell me, Philadelphia Union fans, in any format, outlet, or way you see fit to embody your feelings and thoughts, in response to the result of a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC, how do you feel?