CHESTER, Pa. — To say Ken Tribbett had a rocky game the last time the Union faced Toronto FC would be an understatement.
The first-year MLS defender out of Drexel scored a goal but was also victimized on three Toronto goals before getting pulled from the game at halftime.
Tribbett has played sparingly since then, losing his starting spot to Joshua Yaro, who he’s traded time with at center back for much of the season.
But when the Union face Toronto again this Saturday at BMO Field, Tribbett will return to the starting lineup while Yaro serves a one-game suspension for a red card he picked up in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Portland.
“It’s a good opportunity for redemption,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Ken’s a guy we’ve leaned on heavily this year. He’s had a lot of great games for us. Obviously it’s no secret the Toronto game was a difficult one for him. A lot of the instances where we gave up chances the last time against Toronto were actually off of balls in our attacking half of the field that were turned over quickly and there was a second ball that was bouncing and we fell asleep for a split second. And I think Ken learned from that game.”
Tribbett admitted his last game against Toronto wasn’t his best performance but he isn’t scared to face his former tormentors again. In fact, he said he’s “grateful” for another opportunity to show what he can do and apply the lessons he learned from his last outing.
“Of course there are certain things you can always improve on,” Tribbett said. “Spacing in behind a big strong guy, you’ve got to learn to use your body. There’s a bunch of different things. I’ve learned my lesson and hopefully it’ll pay off on Saturday.”
The good news for Tribbett is that reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco has been out with an injury and likely won’t be back in time to face a Philadelphia team he’s scored against every time he’s faced them. The bad news is that Jozy Altidore is the hottest player in the league right now with eight goals in his last nine games for Toronto.
One of those goals came during Toronto’s 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Aug. 20 when Altidore muscled his way around Tribbett. Moving forward, the Union center back said the key to dealing with a big striker like Altidore is “maybe stay off and don’t wrestle with him so much.”
Of course, it won’t be just on Tribbett to contain Altidore but the Union’s entire young backline, as well as their midfield and goalkeeper Andre Blake.
“It’s always tough when you’re playing against a good player,” Tribbett said. “It’s even tougher when they’re scoring goals and in good form. All we can do is work together as a team to try to slow him down.”
One of those players who will look to slow down Altidore and the rest of Toronto’s vaunted attack is rookie Keegan Rosenberry.
Like Tribbett, he’s looking for a little bit of redemption after struggling in the Union’s last game in Portland. But also like Tribbett, he’s excited for the challenge this weekend’s north-of-the-border trip presents.
“Limiting his impact on the game is a challenge,” Rosenberry said of Altidore. “He’s feeling good right now. But we’re up for the challenge. It’s easy to get up for these types of games when you have those types of players that are feeling good.”
Normally, losing a player like Yaro — Rosenberry’s fellow rookie and old teammate at Georgetown — would be a big blow. But because Yaro and Tribbett have platooned for most of the year (be it for suspensions, injuries or whatever else), Rosenberry called it “lucky” that “both guys have plenty of experience.”
And although Curtin prefers stability along his backline, he too is glad that the two players have both logged a lot of big minutes in their first MLS seasons.
“They’ve both dealt with a lot of the top strikers,” the Union coach said. “I think it’s good. All these minutes and using all these different lineups that we’ve had to go to, it pays off in the big moments now — because it’s not a big deal for Ken to step in in Josh’s absence, and conversely I’d be completely comfortable with Josh jumping right back in.”
Tribbett said the competition between him and Yaro has been a good one because “both of us are true competitors” who naturally want to earn their spot.
But that will be on the backburner this weekend as Tribbett knows for sure he’ll be the one called upon with Yaro suspended.
And he’s ready to help the Union earn crucial points against arguably the best team in the East.
“I’ve been playing against top-caliber guys all year,” Tribbett said. “In the preseason, we played Toronto and we beat them 1-nil. We’ve shown that we can shut them down; we just need to do it again on Saturday.”