The Toronto FC (football club) have one of the most rabid and supportive fan bases in all of MLS, and so for the 2nd time in their young history, the Union 11 were going to be in extremely hostile conditions on the road in front of almost 22,000 Toronto partisans.
The Union came out strong and confident, riding the high of their weekend home victory over D.C. United, and were generally dominating play against Toronto in the early going.
But the momentum and the ultimate outcome of the game all changed suddenly and dramatically. In the 34th minute, Union defender and team captain Danny Califf was handed a red card and tossed from the game for delivering what appeared to be an intentional elbow to the head of Toronto forward Julian de Guzman.
With Califf tossed from the game, the Union would be forced to play the rest of the match shorthanded by a man. That was bad enough, but also on the ensuing free kick Toronto's Dwayne De Rosario drilled a shot that overpowered Union goalie Chris Seitz, slipping through Seitz' hands and into the net for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
Things appeared pretty bleak for the Union at that point in the match being covered nationally on ESPN2. They were trailing 1-0 on the road in an extremely hostile arena and had to play shorthanded. But hope reared it's head again just before halftime.
That hope came in the form that it usually has for the Union so far in the early matches of this first season, with a rush from Le Toux, Moreno, and Torres.
An offensive attack led by forwards Sebastian Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno rushed forward into the Toronto third of the pitch, the ball was slipped over to Roger Torres along the wing, and Torres drove a bending cross towards the goal. Jordan Harvey came slashing in and punched the ball past Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei and the Union had a 1-1 tie.
In the 2nd half the Union rarely played as if down a man. They took much of the play to the Toronto end, not willing to yield the result to the hosts and continuing to press for their own victory. However, it was just a matter of time before being shorthanded resulted in Toronto opportunities. With less than 10 minutes to play, Union goalie Chris Seitz was called for a foul that yielded a penalty kick for Toronto. De Rosario drove the kick home for a 2-1 lead, and the undermanned Union were unable to gain the equalizer.
Despite the disheartening road loss, the Union have to take positives from this match. They played well overall, in fact they outplayed Toronto for most of the match, even when shorthanded. Were it not for Califf's red card, the match may indeed have turned out much differently. The youngest team in MLS has proven that it has both heart and fire, but has also shown itself to be a bit undisciplined at times and has hurt itself with costly mistakes. These things can be expected with a mostly young expansion club, but with tough matches upcoming manager Peter Nowak needs to drill a little more discipline into his fiery young Union 11.
The Philadelphia Union are off and running in their first-ever season with a 1-2-0 record through the first three matches. Their next match will again be on the road, this time with a visit to the New York Red Bulls at 4pm next Saturday, April 24th. The match will be covered on local cable TV by the ABC Live Well network, available on Comcast and most other services.
Live Well will cover nine Union matches (including the next three), 6ABC will cover six matches, three matches will be covered nationally on ESPN2, and six will be covered by Fox Soccer Channel. As of right now, there are three matches whose local broadcasts are yet to be determined.
Stay tuned here at my http://www.mattveasey.com/ website for updates on all of the Union matches throughout the season.