On a first look at the box score from the Union’s 2-1 loss at Toronto on Saturday night, the numbers seemed hard to believe for anyone who watched the game.
The Union had a 15-7 advantage in total shots, including 5-4 in shots on goal, and had a much bigger expected-goals figure: 2.13 to Toronto’s 0.37.
So how is it that Toronto had two actual goals, and the Union had just one?
“Expected goals are nice, but real goals are what matter, and we didn’t score enough of them tonight,” said Jim Curtin, manager of a Union team that cares a lot about analytics. “Your eyes tend to tell you the truth, and we could have finished some plays off tonight, certainly.”
Mikael Uhre was one of the culprits, failing to score on any of the three shots he had. Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono deserves a little credit for that, but there were certainly moments where Uhre could have done better.
The question now is when Uhre will finally score his first Union goal. It’s easy to believe that once he gets the first one, more will soon follow.
“You’d be concerned if we weren’t creating chances or we were struggling to get looks at goal, but we’re certainly getting those,” Curtin said. “I have no doubt that they’ll start to hit the back of the net — I see it every day in training. You want your strikers to play with no pressure; you want them to feel that the pressure is on the rest of us to make them feel comfortable.”
Curtin was more concerned with the goals his team gave up than the ones it didn’t score, and that was understandable. As great a player as Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo is, Jack Elliott and a few other Union players had opportunities to stop the 2020 MLS MVP on the game-winning goal, and they didn’t.
“We have to get back to what makes us strong, and that’s not conceding goals,” Curtin said.
Elliott also put his hand up after the game too, saying, “I could have probably closed him down a bit more.”
Of course, the game might have been totally different if Toronto’s Jayden Nelson had been sent off for his studs-up tackle on Kai Wagner in the 19th minute. Nelson only got a yellow card, and the replay booth had plenty of time to review the play. It won’t surprise anyone in Toronto or Philadelphia if Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee suspends Nelson this week.
“It’s the reason we have [Video Assistance Referees] … It’s clear as day, a straight red,” Curtin said. “I haven’t said anything that can get me fined, because it’s as blatant and obvious for everybody else to see it in the world of soccer, too.”
Elliott quipped, “Kai is lucky to have two legs at the moment, because that was a pretty bad tackle.”
Pass the hat for them for potential fines, just in case.
But it will pass, just as the frustration over the year’s first loss will pass. The unbeaten start to this season was going to end sooner or later. This is the game where it did.
“We’ve had a great start to the year. We’ve been sharp; we’ve been tough to play against,” Curtin said. “But credit to TFC tonight, they got the better of us.”