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Preview: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Game time: Saturday, 12:30 p..m.

TV: The Comcast Network

On Saturday, we’ll see Philadelphia Union play a team that’s trying to play the way we thought we’d see the Union do it this year.

Under new coach and former Dutch international Aron Winter, Toronto FC (2-4-6) has tried to import the traditional Ajax (and modern Barcelona) style of play, moving to a 4-3-3 and trying to import the talent necessary to pull off a fluid offensive attack. They’re not quite pulling it off yet, but at least they’re starting to entertain again, thanks largely to the play of Ecuadorian teenager Joao Plata. Despite wowing many at the MLS pre-season scouting combine, Plata plummeted in the draft, and Toronto got a steal. Why? Because he stands five feet, two inches tall.

That’s right, Joao Plata is shorter than your kid sister.

Shutting down Plata will go a long way toward winning the game for the Union (5-3-2), because Toronto doesn’t have a ton of other weapons. Striker Alan Gordon and midfielder Tony Tchani have played well when healthy, but both are questionable for Saturday’s game with injuries. Alen Stevanovic is an interesting player in the midfield, Julian de Guzman is finally getting to something approximating his natural position (holding midfield) again, and Adrian Cann and Philly-area native Dan Gargan make a decent core of the defense, but the cupboard is otherwise rather bare for a team that seriously cleaned house during the offseason and is still rebuilding — or really, just building. Stefan Frei is solid in goal, but he’s the only guy on this team who ranks in the top 85 in the most recent MLS Castrol Index, which is billed (whether it is or isn’t) as the best statistical rating system available.

On the flip side, the entire Union back line ranks in the top 50 of that index (led by Danny Califf at No. 6 in the league), reflecting their great play this season. The Union have let in only seven goals in 10 games, which is a good thing when you consider they’ve only scored eight. They hit for their first multiple-goal game last week, perhaps helped by the concept of actually playing with only one defensive midfielder. Striker Carlos Ruiz hit the goal of a lifetime, which he admitted was probably a fluke, but it’s enough for us to cut him some slack this week in the preview. Striker Sebastien Le Toux continues to struggle in his pairing with Ruiz and has yet to score in the run of play after last year’s breakout season.

Fortunately, the midfield has been playing well. Michael Farfan had a brilliant game at midfield, followed by a collapse once moved out of position to left back. Justin Mapp continues to show it is possible to not only walk but play soccer well with one leg, while Kyle Nakazawa continues to emerge as a solid contributor in the middle. Somehow, Keon Daniel has found himself on the bench for a few games after some great play, leading some to wonder whose corn flakes he pissed in. Union manager Peter Nowak’s inscrutable ways continue to flummox, and we have long since given up trying to figure out exactly what kind of logic motivates each of his decisions. For his part, all he has to do is point at the team’s record, and it seems hard to question (until you remember the striker situation, and it suddenly becomes strangely easy).

Probable starters


Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams

Midfielders: Michael Farfan, Kyle Nakazawa, Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp

Forwards: Carlos Ruiz, Sebastien Le Toux


Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei

Defenders: Richard Eckersley, Dicoy Williams, Adrian Cann, Dan Gargan

Midfielders: Alen Stevanovic, Julian de Guzman, Jacob Peterson

Forwards: Nick Soolsma, Javier Martina, Joao Plata,

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – OUT: GK Thorne Holder (concussion);MF Amobi Okugo (L ankle sprain); MF Zach Pfeffer (appendectomy); QUESTIONABLE:MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain); PROBABLE: FW DannyMwanga (L hamstring strain); FW Carlos Ruiz (R hip flexor strain).

Toronto – OUT: MF Elbekay Bouchiba (R knee surgery recovery); MF Jacob Peterson (L hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: FW Alan Gordon (adductorstrain); MF Gianluca Zavarise (adductor strain); MF Tony Tchani (R hamstring).


The Union win 1-0. It’s hard to win on the road, but the Union could pull it off against an injury-plagued Toronto team. Shutting down Plata is the key.



  1. I don’t have a sister …

  2. “…leading some to wonder whose corn flakes he pissed in.”

    Hahahahahahahaha fantastic.

  3. Damn, I was hoping Ruiz had gone to practice with his national team already. How many games will he, oh so unfortunately, miss?

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