TORONTO — Alejandro Pozuelo scored early in the second half as Toronto FC downed Philadelphia 2-1 Saturday, handing the league-leading Union their first defeat of the MLS season.
Toronto (3-2-2) won its third in a row at home while extending its unbeaten run to four games (3-0-1). Philadelphia (5-1-1) had won a franchise-record five straight prior to Saturday, including four consecutive clean sheets which matched a club mark set in 2017, and was the only MLS team without a defeat.
The Toronto-Philadelphia soccer matchup kicked off some 70 minutes after the Raptors and 76ers tipped off in Philadelphia in Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoff matchup. The Sixers won 131-111.
It was a chilly evening for the announced crowd of 20,809 at BMO Field with a temperature of four degrees feeling like minus-two. But there was some heat on the pitch with no shortage of niggle as the two teams went at it.
Pozuelo decided the game in the 51st minute with a beautiful goal, taking a pass from Kadin Chung and then dribbling through three defenders before slotting the ball past a diving Andre Blake into the corner. It was the second goal of the season for the Spanish playmaker, named league MVP in 2020.
Philadelphia had its chances later in the game but could not take advantage as TFC bent but didn't break. Toronto suffered through some seven minutes of stoppage time.
Argentine forward Julian Carranza had opened the scoring for Philadelphia in the 34th minute, heading home a cross from Danish international Mikael Uhre with the Toronto defence at sixes and sevens following a rush down the left flank that saw Uhre out-distance defender Shane O'Neill. Toronto has now conceded a goal in a club-record 19 straight home matches.
Jesus Jimenez answered for Toronto in the 39th minute, elegantly curling a shot past Blake after Jonathan Osorio dribbled his way into the Union penalty box and played a sweet give-and-go with the Spaniard. Jimenez's fourth goal this season snapped Philadelphia's 457-minute shutout streak, dating back to March 5 when Lassi Lappalainen scored for Montreal in a 2-1 loss March 5 at Olympic Stadium.
It was the longest goalless streak in MLS this season. And just the third goal conceded by Blake, who came into the game with a miserly 0.33 goals-against average. The Union 'keeper's last appearance at BMO Field was in the 4-0 Jamaica loss on March 27 that clinched a World Cup berth for the Canadian men.
Philadelphia appeared to have gone back ahead three minutes later off a corner. Pozuelo headed the ball away but it went straight to Kai Wagner whose volley from well outside the box went through traffic and past Alex Bono. But referee Alex Chilowicz, after going to the pitch-side monitor, waved it off on the grounds that an offside player had obscured the Toronto 'keeper.
Toronto coach Bob Bradley made three changes to the team that tied 2-2 at Real Salt Lake last week with Chris Mavinga, Chung and Jayden Nelson coming in for Carlos Salcedo, suspended after being red-carded, Lukas MacNaughton and Kosi Thompson.
TFC II defenders Themi Antonoglou, 20, and Adam Pearlman, 17, were on the bench after signing short-term loan agreements Friday.
Forward Ayo Akinola, out since injuring his knee last July playing for Canada at the Gold Cup, was also among the substitutes — a first since undergoing surgery in August.
Philadelphia had got goals in the first 12 minutes in each of the last three games and threatened early again Saturday.
Jack Elliott's shot went high off a corner in the fourth minute. Three minutes later, Carranza just missed getting a foot to a low cross in front of goal.
At the other end, Blake had to make a diving save to deny Nelson in the 17th.
Philadelphia was irate in the 19th minute when Nelson only received a yellow card for a nasty, high challenge on Wagner in the corner.
Nelson showed his skill, if not his targeting, in the 27th minute when he took a pass on the edge of the Philadelphia penalty box, flicked the ball over his head and then pivoted before volleying it over the crossbar.
Blake was called into action soon after the Union went ahead, tipping away a venomous shot from distance from Pozuelo.
Bradley replaced Nelson at halftime, perhaps to protect him from a second yellow card after the first-half incident with Wagner. Osorio, playing in his 299th career game for TFC in all competitions, exited in the 56th minute after taking a knock.
Bono made several acrobatic saves in the second half to deny the Union, sticking out a leg to stop Uhre in one instance. And the Union came close again in a 71st-minute goalmouth scramble.
Philadelphia came to Toronto with a career regular-season record of 147-147-105, looking to move above the .500 level all-time for the first time. The Union entered the league in 2010, three years after Toronto, whose record now stands at 156-202-132.
Philadelphia hosts CF Montreal next Saturday while TFC heads to New York to play NYCFC at Citi Field next Sunday.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press