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The boys from Spain laid on the pain on Saturday night.
Toronto FC’s two Spanish attackers, forward Jesus Jimenez and midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, scored as the Reds defeated the previously undefeated Philadelphia Union 2-1 in a hard-fought, and at times feisty, match at BMO Field.
Undoubtedly it was the biggest win of the year for TFC as the first-place Union were coming off four straight shut-out victories and five consecutive wins overall. Heading into the match, Philadelphia had given up only two goals all season.
“I’m proud of the group,” said TFC coach Bob Bradley, who picked up his 200th MLS victory with the win. “I think we really raised the level in terms of just the way we went after the game. And we needed more guys stepping up and really giving us more, and I think that was definitely the case tonight.”
The Reds — with three wins, two losses and two draws on the season — are now riding a four-game unbeaten streak with three straight wins.
“To be able to grind out performances early in the season like this and see out a game against a really direct team that has a lot of weapons that’s tough to play against … I’m not really worried about how it looks at this point, I’m worried about getting victories,” said TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono, who made a number of big saves in the match.
Julián Carranza put the Union ahead 1-0 while Jimenez pulled Toronto even, both goals coming in opening half. But it was a brilliant goal by Pozuelo in the second half that sealed the deal for TFC in a hotly contested match that saw referee Alex Chilowicz issue five yellow cards, four to Toronto.
Defensively, Shane O’Neill was a rock at centre back for TFC with Designated Player Carlos Salcedo not playing as a result of picking up a red card last weekend at Real Salt Lake.
TFC held an edge in possession (54%-46%), but it was the aggressive, counter-attacking Union who recorded 15 shots to seven by the Reds. Philly directed five shots on goal to four by Toronto and recorded 10 corner kicks while the Reds had four.
With Salcedo out, veteran Chris Mavinga was back in the line up for the first time since Toronto’s season opener at Dallas on Feb.26 and he responded with a good two-way performance.
Forward Ayo Akinola, TFC’s co-leading scorer in 2020 with nine goals in 15 appearances, dressed for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury last July, but did not play.
The Union had the wind at their backs in the first half and went on the attack early. But it was TFC’s Jayden Nelson who came closest to scoring in the 17th minute, when he picked up a pass just outside the box from Pozuelo and right-footed a blast towards the far-right corner, forcing Union ’keeper Andre Blake to make a good save.
The 19-year-old Nelson picked up a yellow card two minutes later after a hard, high, sliding tackle on Kai Wagner. Nelson was fortunate that he didn’t receive a red card from Chilowicz, though the play may be reviewed by the league this week. Nelson made a couple of defensive missteps in the match, but also showed flashes of offensive brilliance.
TFC picked up a second yellow card in the half, when Pozuelo gave the ball away at midfield and then took down Philly forward Mikael Uhre.
In a competitive, fairly even first half, the Union scored via a header by Carranza from very close range to the bottom right corner following a TFC giveaway.
Jimenez’s goal came in the 39th minute after a great pass from Jonathan Osorio. Jimenez right-footed the ball from the left side of the box to the top right corner – his fourth goal this season and the first goal the Union had given up in 468 minutes. A couple of minutes after that, Wagner scored for Philly but it was overturned on a VAR challenge that ruled the goal was scored with Carranza offside.
The yellows kept flying for Toronto when Chilowicz slapped Michael Bradley with one in added time in the first when the TFC captain tussled with Philly midfielder José Martínez. The half ended with a little bad blood from both sides and Bob Bradley was not happy with a couple of calls.
Pozuelo’s goal, to put TFC ahead 2-1 in the 51st minute, was simply brilliant, a strike reminiscent of his MLS MVP season from two years ago. The Spaniard picked up a pass from Kadin Chung just outside the box, dribbled around two Philly defenders and left-footed the ball from the centre of the box into the left corner. It was Pozuelo’s second of the season.
TFC was dealt a blow in the 55th minute when Osorio, who had played a solid match for Toronto, was forced out of the game with a right thigh injury and replaced by Kosi Thompson, yet another 19-year-old. Osorio’s next game will be his 300th for TFC.
In the 60th minute, Bono made a good save on Uhre and then, seconds later, made a second save on him, this time with his right leg after Uhre got behind O’Neill.
The Union poured on the pressure in the final 15 minutes of the match. TFC left back Jacob Shaffelburg, who played his usual high-tempo game, was pushed into the wall in the Philly end and came out with a cut over his left eye as the Reds held on for the win.
TFC’s next match in Sunday, April 24 against New York City FC at Citi Field.