Union Draws Toronto FC, 2-2
CHESTER, Pa. (973espn.com) – Two matches, two draws.
The Union (0-0-2) opened up the home portion of their 2017 schedule by playing the reigning Eastern Conference champions, Toronto FC, to a 2-2 stalemate at a frigid Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday.
With temperatures hovering around 30 at kickoff and the wind chill far below that on the Delaware Riverfront, Philadelphia scored for the first time this season after opening the campaign with a 0-0 draw in Vancouver last weekend but failed to exact a bit of revenge on TFC (0-0-2), which eliminated the Union from the postseason last year with a 3-1 victory North of the Border.
Newcomer Jay Simpson got the afternoon off to a positive start in the 10th minute when a long Haris Medunjanin approach was headed by Chris Pontius to a streaking Simpson, who was then able to redirect it just enough to get it past Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
The Union nearly doubled its lead when Fabian Herbers was taken down in the box, setting up a penalty kick for team captain Alejandro Bedoya in the 33rd minute. Bedoya, however, blasted the PK a bit high and off the crossbar, something that would come back to haunt Philadelphia.
"I thought I had it. It happens," Bedoya said. "It's not the first and last penalty miss. I apologized to the team. I think at 2-0 we had them. The way we were playing it could have been a totally different game. We could have probably beaten them 4-0 or 5-0 but I'm proud of the guys. I think the team effort collectively today was great and the energy we had."
Toronto took advantage of its good fortune during first-half stoppage time when Joey Altidore got his own chance at a PK due to a heightened clutching in the box initiative. He went the finesse route, beating Union GK Andre Blake, who guessed wrong.
"A game that had a little bit of everything, I thought the first 45 minutes was some of the best soccer we’ve played in a while, maybe ever, so from that standpoint happy with the group," Union coach Jim Curtin said. "Disappointing to come back 1-1 it felt unjust, we will just call it that."
Pontius nearly put the Union back in front during the 62nd minute but Irwin stoned the striker's attempt after sweeping through the box. C.J. Sapong was unable to direct the rebound on net from there.
A scary moment for Union fans came in the 67th minute when Altidore fed Tosaint Ricketts but Blake beat the striker to the ball and got kicked in the ear. The reigning MLS GK of the Year was down for a few minutes but managed to stay in the match.
Toronto kept pressing and took its only lead in the 71st minute when Justin Morrow snuck behind the Philly defense and beat Blake on the far side for a 2-1 advantage.
That didn't hold up for long, however, as Herbers dropped a nifty pass to Sapong, who easily slotted it past Irwin in the 73rd.
Things stayed even from there as Philadelphia earned its second point in two opportunities.
Simpson, a London native who was a discovery signing by the Union back in January, was out of the contest by the 29th minute, being replaced by Sapong, after being shaken up with a rib injury.
"It is tough to use a sub so early and Jay was active and busy, not just because he scored the goal, but because he was holding the balls and the start to the game was real positive," Curtin said. "He has worked really hard on the fitness side of things, he had a good performance so I was disappointed to see him leave the game the way he did."
The all-time series between these two teams is now at a Devil-ish 6-6-6 in MLS regular-season competition. Last season the Union squared off with Toronto twice during the regular season and once during the postseason. Philadelphia fell to TFC at Talen Energy Stadium last August, but left BMO Field in September with a draw thanks to the first career MLS goal from Bedoya.
-John McMullen covers the Philadelphia Union for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen.