Match previews

Preview & analysis: Union at Toronto FC

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC
What: Regular season game
Where: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When: 2 pm, Saturday, Sept. 6
Watch: TCN, Univision Deportes, MLS Live, MLS Direct Kick
Whistle: Alan Kelly; Linesmen: Jeff Muschik, Gianni Facchini; Fourth official: Mark Kadlecik

It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely the easier task of the week. Philadelphia Union knocked off Toronto FC at PPL Park on Wednesday to set up a chance to leap back into the playoff picture by doing the double Saturday night. A win will put the Union on 36 points and will knock Toronto below the red line.

Columbus and New England are also jostling around in the same playoff mosh pit. The former faces Chivas on Sunday while the latter welcomes a desperate Chicago Fire team (from whom they just pilfered out-coin-flipped-for Jermaine Jones). And if everyone else goes down, New York could knock of a reeling Kansas City team and strut undeservingly into the postseason picture.

In short, it’s going to be an interesting weekend.

Nogueira availability

For the Union, the biggest question is whether it’s time to fire all the big guns at once. Injuries have kept Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana from spending time together on the pitch. Nogueira’s re-aggravated groin has him questionable for Saturday. Here’s what Jim Curtin said after Wednesday’s game about Nogueira’s injury status: “Is it something that will keep him out long-term? I don’t think so. The things I’m getting is positive. Does that mean he’s a sub in Toronto? Maybe. Does that mean he starts in Toronto? I don’t know. We’ll see. We need fresh legs obviously. He will be a pretty good player to throw in your lineup that’s for sure.”

Meaning the most likely scenario is an unchanged lineup from what we saw on Wednesday. And that’s fine. But Toronto will make tweaks following a limp midweek showing, and Philly needs to respond defensively in order to keep the shape needed to break out with speed.

As the excellent TFC blog Waking The Red noted, new head coach Greg Vanney pulled Jonathan Osorio more central toward the end of the first half, asking Dom Oduro to tuck back and form a five-man midfield behind Luke Moore. The move worked to perfection, giving Toronto a body to track Maidana and allowing Oduro to isolate on Ray Gaddis. The Union were limited to a single blocked shot the rest of the half, and all but abandoned the now-crowded center of the park.

Bizarrely, Vanney removed Osorio at halftime, later saying that the Canadian midfielder was “nurturing some stuff” (baby geese, perhaps?) Gilberto — carrying a slight calf injury, himself — entered and the team reverted back to a 4-4-2 with Moore and the newly introduced Brazilian leading the line.

Gilberto will start

It will be hard for Vanney to start without Gilberto again on Saturday. If the big striker can play, he should play a ‘Casey’ (that’s a 60-65 minute match. And no it’s not trademarked… yet). The big money call will be the shape. An extensive injury list will force Vanney into a 4-4-2 if Osorio is unavailable; there is only Jeremy Hall left to drop into the center of the park. And that would be quite the surprise.

If Toronto is forced to retain a four-man midfield, expect a more pronounced diamond than on Wednesday. The Canadians had the most success moving forward through the wings, with the surprisingly effective Lovitz a fairly consistent connector. Michael Bradley will have to take a page from the Nogueira playbook and hustle out to the wings to get on the ball in dangerous areas. Besides granting him space, this should open gaps for Gilberto to check in and wreak havoc on the Union defensive shape.

‘Should’ is the operative word in the previous sentence, because the Union response will be key. Philly’s tactics practically invite two-forward sets, defending the space in front of the back four with strength and numbers and using the extra man in midfield to counterattack at pace. But Bradley is good enough on the ball to cause real issues if he can find space in wide areas and pick out runners.

Where will those runners come from?

Vanney pushed his fullbacks higher up the pitch, hoping to prevent those ubiquitous Union counterattacks. The ploy failed because it involved the Rocksteady and Bebop of defending: Mark Bloom and Ashtone Morgan. The fullbacks could not get tight enough to prevent Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux from connecting passes, so instead of looking aggressive they simply appeared out of position.

Morgan’s red card suspension means the more attack-minded of the two fullbacks will not play Saturday, opening the door for Ryan Richter to appear against his former team. Richter is 80% motor, 20% skill, and 100% awesome dude, but he will be focused on defensive duties. Thus, Toronto will attack with six and an occasional Bloom. And they will look to get the ball deep on the wings or long into their big strikers (Moore, Gilberto, Bright Dike… take your pick).

It is safe to assume the home team will have a slightly better idea of what the head coach wants from them after a full week in training. The easy spaces that popped up all over the back line won’t be so readily available for Maidana, and Casey will face defenders who are at least slightly aware of what the other’s plan will be in a given scenario.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Prediction: Toronto 0-0 Philadelphia

Gilberto will help TFC hold more possession and give Bradley another passing partner, but the overall lack of quality an injury-depleted Toronto side can field will keep the scoreboard round. For the Union to get on the board, it will take either a lack of tactical adjustments from Vanney (leaving the fullbacks high) or some better final third decision-making from Andrew Wenger.

Take your pick, either one will do.

Executive summary

Here are the big things to look for when Toronto and Philly take the BMO turf:

  • The shape of Toronto’s midfield — Does it look like an empty bucket or like RSL?
  • The Toronto fullbacks — Stepping high when the CBs have the ball or hanging deep and letting the midfield come to them?
  • Toronto strikers — Movement to pull White and Edu out of shape, or static and waiting for crosses?
  • Gaddis on the ball — Calm and collected or jumpy?
  • Maidana and Casey — Heavy legs or all-action?


  1. Arguably a tougher match — at Toronto, which should be able to adjust tactics — but I still like the Union’s chances. They had a few pretty good chances on Wed. and looked very much like the better club.

    2 -1 Union.

  2. just win baby.

  3. Remember, Toronto is on their 3rd match in a week. Philly needs to force Toronto to work and tire. Then, big weapon, DANNY CRUZ!

    • TFC is going to be the Tired Football Club tomorrow. We know from the World Cup that Bradley doesn’t really get tired, but the rest of the squad sure will. That’s going to give us a big leg up in the second half. It might behoove us to play defensively for the first half, let them get tired, and then come out much more aggressively. And I know DANNY CRUZ! was a joke, and I’m not a huge Cruz fan, but for this match his energy injection might wreak some real havoc.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    Hope Nogs is healthy and can at least show for a time. I like a draw at worst. Gilberto scared me a bit and TFC looked a better team with him, so I hope they’re ready for a “Casey” from him. Ha… love that “Casey” call!

  5. old soccer coach says:

    The addition of “the executive summary” is an excellent idea, plaudits to you for the innovation. It summarizes and focuses the preceding analysis by telling us for what to look.

    • no offense Coach but when I first read this post of yours I thought it was one of those spam posts that have been popping up on PSP lately 🙂

  6. If that’s our XI, we can press TFC’s depleted back line for an early goal. I don’t predict Noguiera starts & Lahoud for Carroll instead. Didn’t JC say at his presser to look for someone who hadn’t been playing a lot to step up? Ribeiro perhaps? No result would be a big step back.

  7. I hope your line-up, with Chaco and Nogs, is what trots onto the field. But I am thinking that is no more than 40% likely.

    Even though I am a soccer fan and I know the game could be exciting, it is a little depressing to see a prediction of 0-0 with alot of clogged mid-field play.

    As for Michael Bradley, his main contribution on Wednesday night seemed to be complaining.

    I am hopeful for a win and the 3 points.

  8. Philip Narozanick says:

    Best lineup available minus Valdes for White. Cuttin is doing things right and is hopefully attracting the amount of attention he deserves from Sack.

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