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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Union 1-1 Toronto: Post-game observations

It took a tremendous performance from Jack McInerney to earn the Union a point against Toronto FC. Some observations from the match.

- “That has to be a game that we win, and looking back on it later in the season it’s going to be disappointing. It might feel good now, but it’s going to be disappointing later.” McInerney gets the goal, and he also gets to the heart of the matter. The Union were not good in the first half; they weren’t much better in the second. Yes, they forced nine saves from Joe Bendik and controlled possession to the tune of 63 percent. But let’s forget the process for a moment: There’s no reason why the Union need Toronto to go down to 10 men and get into stoppage time before they score. It was said by several players in the locker room afterward that this wasn’t a playoff-team performance, and they’re right on the money.

- That said, McInerney’s goal still looms large. It’s a big point, even bigger for what it does momentum-wise. The Union know they need to improve, and at least they got something from Saturday’s game on which to build. And there’s not enough to say about the development of McInerney. Not only is he the second-leading scorer in MLS, he’s already halfway to his total of last year. In six games!
- I wrote at the beginning of the game that I had some reticence looking at the formations. Lots of attacking players are good, yes. But without possession, it can mean a lot of aimless runs. And what I though could happen did, with the Union – even if John Hackworth was somewhat miffed at the assertion in the post-game press conference – descending into long ball soccer. The midfield is still an issue that needs to be shored up.

- But on the bright side, the pieces are there. After watching the replay of the Antoine Hoppenot missed chance – I didn’t see it live while reconstructing my running story, occupational hazard – the play was made by Kleberson. It was an utterly clinical pass. I have no idea why he wasn’t brought on before the 79th minute in a game crying out for midfield stability. He’s the answer to a midfield that struggled to string together passes. Against D.C. United next week, I’d expect him to pair with Brian Carroll centrally with some combination of Michael Farfan, Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz on the wings behind McInerney and Conor Casey.
- Oh, about the Hoppenot chance in the final minute of stoppage time: He’s got to finish that. And he knew it afterward. McInerney did, too.

- I’ve gone this far without mentioning it, but here goes: I’m a little embarrassed at the way Toronto played. It’s obvious that their m.o. Saturday was to hit the ground as much as possible and break up play with constant stoppages. (Whether or not the Union’s lack of success conjuring anything remotely positive from free kicks factored into that, I don’t know.) I counted eight Toronto players who hit the deck at some point, most followed by miraculous recoveries. Combine that with six yellows and a red, and it’s borderline anti-football with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head. Hackworth made mention of it as distracting, but from a neutral perspective, the staccato pace of the game was just unpleasant to watch.

- There’s not a whole lot to say about Toronto. I think their midfield was ineffective. Robert Earnshaw was obviously dangerous and clinical with the one chance he was given. Justin Braun was ghostly. Hogan Ephraim is downright petulant. Darren O’Dea and Gale Agbossoumonde form a solid central pairing. And Bendik stood on his head. It’s tough to say much more about a team with possession in the 30s and two shots on target.

- One more plaudit, though: Ryan Richter looked really good at right back. He fended off Sebastien Le Toux’s forays forward with great success and seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. It was a veteran performance from him.

- Cruz did a lot of good running today, including some early chances created. But then he looked to become reluctant to run at defenders. That’s a big part of his game, and without it, he’s just a stationary midfielder with average to below-average passing ability. The same could be said of Ray Gaddis, whose ability to get forward was severely hampered, perhaps in part because of taking defensive responsibility for Le Toux on his side in midfield.

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