Featured / Match previews

Preview: Union at Toronto FC

What: Union at Toronto FC

When: 4:30pm ET

Where: BMO Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

TV: Comcast Network

Referee: Juan Guzman

Update: Zac MacMath and Gabriel Gomez are ruled out.

It has been a season of surprises and disappointment for the Philadelphia Union. A season in which some games have been near unwatchable while others could only be viewed with stunned disbelief. There have been highs too, but not nearly enough.

So when fans and players look at the standings and see expansion Montreal dancing one rung above them, it is a real blessing to look down and see Toronto.

Until they show up on the schedule.

At this point, a match against TFC is the only one on the schedule that one can honestly say the Union “should win.” The Canadians leak open play goals, they can’t generate a consistent offense, and they have had the lead for a total of… wait for it… one minute all season.

A psychological battle

Toronto needs this match badly. If they lose, their next winnable game isn’t until June 23 when New England comes to BMO. TFC will be nervous but excited. They will look at the Union’s visit to Dallas and see opportunity. An early lead would give the Canadians all the confidence they need to earn their first points of the season.

And, honestly, a tie is as good as a loss for the Union. They need full points from games against teams like Toronto, Montreal and New England if they are going to make anything of the 2012 season.

Andy Jasner’s article on the Union website calls the team “cautiously confident,” though it’s unclear if that means anything. Why be cautious if you are confident? Are you unconfident about your confidence? This cautious confidence has the same name but is a different beast from the 2011 Union’s state of mind. Back then, they were shutting everyone out without scoring many goals. Everyone, it seemed, was confident that the goals would come, and the only caution came from knowing they were good but being unsure precisely how far they were from peaking.

Now cautious confidence signifies a continued but possibly faltering self-belief. Certainly, a loss to Toronto FC will do damage to the Union’s confidence, independent of all modifiers.

Attacking early

In eight of ten MLS matches, TFC has given up the opening goal within the first 31 minutes. They have never scored first.

Three of the last four matches have seen the Canadian club go behind in the first seven minutes (twice in minute one!). There is a tendency to think that attacking formations come out flying, while more conservative setups take time to impose themselves on a match. This has not been the case for TFC.

For a counterattacking system like Toronto’s to work, the team’s defensive shape has to be organized and consistent. Playing with three midfielders, the opposition is going to have space, so the question becomes what can they do with it? Early in the year, TFC inexplicably let strikers check back into space unmarked. This allowed other teams to set up shop in the Toronto final third with nary an extra pass wide. At this point, a 4-3-3 is at sixes and sevens. The wingers have to chase back, the midfield has to decide whether to collapse centrally or close down the wide players, and, if the ball is won back, nobody is prepared to, y’know, counter!

Lately, the Canadian side has improved its defensive organization only to find they have forgotten how to guard set pieces. After taking the lead against Chicago, Toronto quickly gave up a set piece goal. They allowed two more in the 7th and 93rd minutes against Real Salt Lake, and in their last match Dwayne de Rosario scored off a free kick in the first minute.

All of this suggests the Union need to come out and score early. But that does not mean come out and push the ball forward with abandon.

Three Ps: Possess, pick apart, and please-score

Scoring early implies a relentless assault on the opposition goal, but in this case it means something else. In Sheanon Williams and Carlos Valdes, the Union have two of the best ball-handling center backs in the league. Combining this advantage with the ability of Amobi Okugo, Keon Daniel and Freddy Adu to maintain possession and move the ball with purpose, Philadelphia should direct their early assault on the TFC energy reserves and confidence.

In other words, the Union need to play not like the hungrier bad team, but like the better team. Possession, ball movement, and well-chosen chances will be the true destabilizers. Much like penalties in hockey come after a team holds the puck in the opponent’s zone for a long period of time, the Union can earn free kicks in dangerous areas by keeping possession and moving the ball about the final third.

Lio Pajoy appears to be a legitimate aerial threat, and since he is all but guaranteed to be in the starting lineup, the team can take advantage of his emerging skill set by generating set pieces.

Midfield mentality

Against Dallas, the Union came out with Keon Daniel pushed so far up on the right wing that the Texas side was able to move through the midfield like a coyote through sleeping cattle. It wasn’t until the Trinidadian was pulled back to the left side that any semblance of organization appeared in the middle third, and it wasn’t until the wandering Michael Lahoud was replaced with the less wanderlust-afflicted Josue Martinez that a shape solid enough to dictate play truly emerged.

Once a shape did emerge, there seemed to be no stopping the Union. An inexperienced Dallas team cowered in their own end under a near-relentless assault led by fringe players Martinez, Okugo and a rejuvenated Pajoy on the left wing.

Coming out with an intent to control the middle of the park is more important for Philly than merely flying forward and throwing crosses into the box. Remember: Toronto is a bad counterattacking team, but they are still a counterattacking team.

Creating layers

4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1. These numbers can only tell you so much, and usually it isn’t enough.

Regardless of formation, the team needs to create multiple layers to move the ball through the midfield. Coaches often talk about passing triangles, and what are they but the simplest way to move a ball five or ten yards up the pitch without dribbling? The Union have not done well creating anything like layers in the middle or final third this season.

In the first half against Dallas, Sheanon Williams resorted to pumping balls forward when he found nobody checking into the space ten yards ahead of him. Instead, a horizontal line of midfielders hung out around the half-line, apparently assuming Williams would don face paint, signal for his horse and lead a Braveheart-styled charge into the Dallas half.

I’m not saying The Sheanomenon shouldn’t do just that, but I am suggesting that if the team thinks Le Toux’s contract demands were unreasonable, they probably won’t spring for a decent horse.

And I’m saying that the Union don’t use their undoubted midfield talent to dictate pace and play as much as they could. Toronto, with the space they offer to opposition, is the perfect place to try and control a match from the outset.

Danny Mwanga: Shoot the ball

I don’t have any analysis here. I just want to add my voice to the chorus.

Mwanga has yet to dominate a defender this season, and as strong as he was against Dallas, Matt Hedges came out the winner.

So here is a direct appeal: Danny, you know what it looks like when a defender is afraid of you. Act like they feel that way from the outset, and they will actually feel that way. Take people on, charge into aerial challenges like every one of them is taking place in the 95th minute of a tie game. Defenders say they don’t do it, but they will take their defensive cues from how a striker plays. If you hesitate, they’ll be a lot tighter.

You can do it. Now go do it.



  • GK: Milos “The Milosnaire” Kocic
  • DEF (R to L): Jeremy “With the candlestick in the” Hall, Adrian “Tin” Cann, Doneil “It’s pronounced Thierry” Henry, Ashtone “Not Alex” Morgan
  • MID: Torsten “Onion” Frings, Juan “of Guzman” de Guzman, Eric Avila, Reggie “Chop” Lambe, Joao “Clean your” Plata
  • FWD: Ryan “The Finisher” Johnson


  • GK: Chris Konopka
  • DEF: Michael Farfan, Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Raymon Gaddis
  • MID: Freddy Adu, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel
  • FWD: Lionard Pajoy, Danny Mwanga



  • OUT: FW Nicholas Lindsay (L knee surgery); GK Stefan Frei (L lower leg); DF Aaron Maund (R eye hyphema); DF Logan Emory (shoulder subluxation)
  • DOUBTFUL: DF Miguel Aceval (L quad strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Dicoy Williams (R knee surgery); DF Torsten Frings (shoulder sprain)


  • OUT: GK Zac MacMath (concussion symptoms); FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms); DF Chris Albright (L big toe sprain); GK Chase Harrison (L ankle sprain); MF Gabriel Gomez (L quad contusion)
  • PROBABLE: DF Carlos Valdes (head laceration)

International absence


  • Porfirio Lopez, Zach Pfeffer



  1. DarthLos117 says:

    Union win 6-2

  2. Zac questionable? Chase out? Does this mean we see the debut of Konopka? Oh Dear!!!!!

    • Adam Cann says:

      All signs point to Zac, but if there was ever a match to give Konopka his debut, this (or the home version of this tie) would be it, no?

  3. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    You sure you don’t mean Gabe at LB? He is back, finally.

    • Adam Cann says:

      I think that’s probably the better option but I think the team wants both Keon and Marfan on the pitch any way they can get ’em there… aside from dropping Adu or Pajoy, I mean.

  4. DarthLos117 says:

    Keon Daniel is a liability and should not be on the field.

    A Goalie
    Gaddis-Williams-Valdes-G. Farfan
    M. Farfan-Carroll-Okugo-Adu

    • The Black Hand says:

      He looked poor against Dallas, as did the entire club. Aside from that, I think his form has been as good as anyone else out there. He just needs to take the shot.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        Nope he hasnt been as good as everybody else. Everybody else has clearly contributed in one way or another except for Daniel…He has lost his temper once and got a red card. He also lost his marker at least twice on set pieces which have led to opponents scores. A defensive liability with limited offensive output in the 9 games he has played in. I suspect the only reason he has continued playing is due to his hieght.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Wait, our club marks on set pieces????

  5. Philly Cheese says:

    Would love to see Okugo and Adu on pitch at same time as shown.
    Not sure Pajoy, Mwanga or Adu have conditioning or stamina to go 90 strong minutes, but can’t substitute for all three and therefore we show weakness in last 15-20 minutes at their positions. Martinez or Hoffman could go 90 so one should start one of them in place of Mwanga or Pajoy.

  6. Keon Daniel says:

    I got left at home because if I leave the US I apparently won’t be let back in for months.

    No, the same rule doesn’t apply to Piotr. Yes, the entire squad asked.

    Free Keon!!!!!

  7. Keith Olbermann says:

    Worst performance in the world?

    A) Peter Nowak
    B) MLS officiating
    C) Union announcers

    ALL need to go

  8. Union Nation says:

    If you resign, we won’t think you are a quitter.
    Just leave from Toronto.
    No need to waste the plane fare.
    It’s the right thing to do.
    The Fans

  9. I’ve tried to be positive but that’s it. This is a disaster and an embarassment. Blow it up. Fire Nowak and Hackworth, sell all the players. Time to start over.

    • then burn down the stadium and salt the earth so nothing shall grow there again…

      Burn all of our union gear in a giant pyre and then throw our children into the flames as a penance to the soccer gods for our offences.

      Finally we will poke out our eyes so we shall never see a soccer game again and tear out our tongues so we may never, even accidentally, mention the Union agaon.

      Better yet how about we just fire the coach and he can assess how good our team is and where we can make improvements.

      • the kid union says:

        Dont forget to cut off our ears!!

      • Yeah, because this team is overflowing with talent. Once this moron is fired and a real coach is in place, how many of these guys do you think will be kept as anything more than roster filler?

        Nah, this is the worst team in MLS purely because of lineup choices and tactical decisions. Surely this group of losers can give Barca a run if only they were deployed properly!

      • Yea comparing any MLS team to Barca is an apt comparison.

      • Thank you for conceding my point.

      • whatever.

  10. I guess I can wait for the recap…but I missed the game and was wondering how bad it was…

    Also no way Nowak goes…not the week after they get rid of Califf. Ownership obviously still supports him enough to make that move.

    By the end of the season. I hope.

  11. They won’t get rid of him before the all star game. Or after. He would be fired in Europe by noe.

  12. the kid union says:


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