After returning from a long trip to Vancouver, the week focused on getting the team fresh. (Credit to the club’s Sports Performance Department). We also focused on a couple key areas to attack Toronto FC, and slow down a really good team with game changing talent.
The Union starting XI was unchanged from Vancouver and the consistency provided a strong start in front of the home crowd. Even with the score line tied at halftime, we felt we had the stronger of play and were able to execute some of the ideas below. With the injury to Sebastian Giovinco, and entrance of Tosaint Ricketts we knew Toronto would come out and press a bit higher. Unfortunately, we did not handle the high press as effective as we would have liked which caused unforced turnovers and rushed decisions especially in our attacking half.
As the match wore in the final 20 minutes, we composed ourselves and were able to create a couple of scoring opportunities and battle back from a goal down to draw even. In the end, the locker room feels like it was 2 points dropped at home, but took pride in our ability to stick together, and battle back from adversity which we know will carry us throughout the season.
3-1-4-2: Press the Midfield - Forward First - Exploit the wide area
One of many strengths that Michael Bradley has is his ability to link the midfield to attack. Defensively, one of our key objectives was to always have someone around him to force short/negative passes, as well as to press the next player and deny him from turning in the midfield.
Consequently, we had hoped this would force Giovinco and Jozy Alitodre to come back into the midfield to find the ball, therefore keeping them away from our penalty area as much as possible. If all else failed with our pressure, we wanted to foul in the middle third (23 fouls in the match) to further disrupt their rhythm and help us maintain our shape.
Over the course of 90 minutes we were moderately successful in applying this tactic. Derrick Jones’ ball winning ability, the supporting efforts of Chris Pontius and Fabian Herbers, the correct timing to step from Fabinho and Keegan Rosenberry, and finally Alejandro Bedoya’s role in tirelessly shadowing Bradley for the duration of this match we believe made Toronto uncomfortable at times and hopefully forced them to play backwards more than they intended to.
Attacking from wide areas
Offensively, we attempted to play first passes off turnovers forward, getting man more situations in the wide areas. We believed this would help draw Bradley him out of the middle of the field and allow Haris Medunjanin and Jones to get on the ball in positions to create. Their knack to find space and consistently find the right pass allowed us to unlock Toronto’s defense at times and create chances. Haris finished the match with 73 touches, 12 recoveries, 43 successful passes (team high), and 7 good long balls (over 30 meters), while Jones was second on the team in touches and successful passes.
Our first goal was a result of this movement, which allowed Haris to exploit a 2v2 in the penalty area where Jay Simpson and Pontius were able to finish the opportunity. Getting our outside backs into support positions for the attack, allowed our wingers to play with more freedom.
Even though Fabinho and Rosenberry did not register great attacking numbers, their presence in the attacking half allowed us to control possession (Attacking Half 62%, Final Third 61%). Specifically, Herbers drew a penalty making an inside run, and later in the match, he delivered the pass in behind to CJ Sapong which he handled perfectly to tie the match. Pontius and Herbers were active throughout the match with primary assists on both goals. In addition, Herbers finished the match with a team high three crosses and two chances created along with three tackles won, a penalty drawn, and an assist, while Pontius remained a constant threat winning aerial duals and a majority of his touches came in the final third.
There is a lot of cohesion within the group and everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities. We have two tough road matches ahead of us against Orlando and D.C. United, but we fully expect to have strong outings in both, and earn our first win of the 2017 season.
Thanks to all the fans for braving the freezing temperatures, and look forward to playing in front of you on April 8th when you give the Portland Timbers a true Philadelphia welcome!