Pozuelo header gives Toronto 2-1 win in huge Eastern Conference battle

Philadelphia Union’s unbeaten streak came to an end in Hartford, CT Saturday night as they fell 2-1 to Toronto FC.

Jim Curtin didn’t have Ray Gaddis or Kai Wagner available, but the Union defense has depth and Olivier Mbaizo remained on the right with Matt Real slotting in at left back. Ale Bedoya returned to the first eleven in place of Anthony Fontana to round out the changes.

Jozy Altidore led the line for Toronto FC, but it was another big striker that opened up the game less than five minutes from the first whistle.

Running onto a wonderful touch from Bedoya, Santos pinged the ball off defender Omar Gonzalez, retrieved it, and dinked his finish over a surprised Quentin Westberg.

It was a sign that the Union were unafraid of the perennial contenders from Canada, and the rest of the Philly squad followed Santos’ lead in a fearless, energetic first half.

But Toronto had a wild card. Alejandro Pozuelo, the MVP-caliber Designated Player who whipped in a gorgeous free kick at home last season against the Union, caused problems in the midfield. He twisted away from Jose Martinez, slipped balls through to his wingers, and caused problems for the Unio’s diamond midfield.

Still, TFC struggled to generate real chances and Andre Blake was only forced into a single first half save.

Instead, the next big chance came from Jamiro Monteiro. Santos played a seeing-eye throughball to Brenden Aaronson on the left and the homegrown midfielder dropped it back to Monteiro in acres of space. Picking out the far corner, Monteiro blasted a dipping ball toward net but Westberg leapt and touched it against the bar.

Tony Gallacher replaced Justin Morrow just before halftime due to an injury and Nick DeLeon joined the fray early in the second half after Altidore pulled up with a tight hamstring.

Gallacher, a 21-year old defender from Scotland, proved a difference-maker in the 58th minute. Darting up the left on a counterattack, he picked out Ayo Akinola at the far post and the young striker powered an unstoppable header past Blake to even the scoreline.

The Union looked unbowed as Santos continued to cause problems, nearly latching onto a cross from Bedoya following great hold-up play from Kacper Przybylko. In the 66th minute, Curtin turned to one of the hottest players in MLS, replacing Brenden Aaronson with Anthony Fontana.

The homegrown was instantly involved, driving into the TFC box and nearly beating three men before getting dispossessed.

In the 71st minute, Pozuelo popped up again, drifting out to the right and threading in Richie Laryea to set up Pablo Piatti. The winger drilled a free shot just wide of Blake’s near post and the Union were able to fight on.

Then, in the 76th minute, Toronto finally got the break they needed.

Piatti’s set piece delivery was flicked on by Chris Mavinga. Pozuelo was all alone at the back post and had all the time in the world to lean down and head the winner past Blake from close range.

The Union pushed for an equalizer as Andrew Wooten replaced Real, but it was not to be.

Philly is back in action this Wednesday when they face FC Cincinnati on PHL17 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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