Game Changers – Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC
Here are a few of the moments that really changed the momentum of Saturday’s match against Toronto FC:
- In the 21st minute, Zac MacMath kicked the ball out to Danny Cruz on the right flank. Cruz battled Toronto’s Ashtone Morgan for the ball, and during the tussle Morgan fell. When Morgan hit the turf, he grabbed and pushed the ball away from Cruz. Cruz kept going, gathering the ball and heading with pace toward the goal. Since there was no real advantage gained from this, usually play would be allowed to continue, however the referee blew the play dead and showed Morgan a yellow card. This was a critical turning point not only because Cruz had a pretty clear lane toward the goal and had good pace and support (and if there was no advantage gained from the foul to the team who committed the foul play should have been allowed to continue), but Morgan picking up the yellow card, as he would pick up a second yellow card and be sent off in the 88th minute. If Morgan doesn’t get the yellow card here, the Union aren’t up a man in the 88th minute and most likely don’t equalize in the 93rd.
- When Darel Russell went off injured in the 7th minute, it absolutely changed the game because not only was TFC manager Ryan Nelsen forced to bring former Philadelphia Union prospect Ryan Richter into his first MLS match (congratulations to Richter, a LaSalle grad from Southampton, PA), but Nelsen only had two more substitutions for the rest of the match. After subbing in Jonathan Osorio for Luis Silva in the 73rd minute and John Bostock for Robert Earnshaw in the 86th minute, first-year manager Nelsen was out of substitutions when Morgan was sent off in the 88th. Perhaps if he could have made another sub and brought on a defender to help preserve the lead they don’t concede Jack McInerney’s goal in the 93rd.
- Kléberson’s MLS debut was a moment that changed the match. As John Hackworth’s last substitution, midfielder Kléberson came on for defender Ray Gaddis in the 79th minute, 8 minutes after Earnshaw’s go-ahead goal for Toronto FC. This gave Philadelphia a much more offensive look, as the midfield of Sébastien Le Toux, Keon Daniel, Brian Carroll, and Danny Cruz was largely impotent, and Hackworth replacing Le Toux with Antoine Hoppenot and Cruz with Michael Farfan had produced only limited dividends. Kléberson will probably most be remembered for his lovely header-and-kick combo from outside the box in the 87th minute that ricocheted around and forced goalkeeper Joseph Bendik to push the ball around the post, but his positioning on McInerney’s goal was crucial. Kléberson helped shield a Toronto defender from seeing the ball as Conor Casey’s pass trickled through the box to Jack McInerney, who finally beat Bendik (who had one hell of a game). Kléberson also fed Hoppenot a beautiful ball in the 97th minute which sprung Hoppenot into the box alone with Bendik. Bendik held his ground and denied Hoppenot the late game winner.
- The Union’s disallowed goal in the 89th minute was also a critical moment. Keon Daniel hit a curling free kick into the box from about 25 yards out, and both Amobi Okugo and Joseph Bendik went up for it. Okugo blocked Bendik’s view of the ball (Okugo never touched either Bendik or ball). Instead of being able to see the ball and being able to catch it cleanly, the ball clattered off of Bendik’s hands and into the box. Bendik jumped on the ground after the ball and looked to his right hand on it, but from the overhead camera it appeared he whiffed with his left – thus never gaining full possession. Jack McInerney was right there and poked the ball in, however the referee immediately signaled no goal. From my (obviously biased) perspective, this goal should have stood as it didn’t appear to me that Bendik ever had full possession of the ball. The referee disagreed with me, and unfortunately for Union fans, his opinion carries far more weight than mine.