Match previews

Match Preview: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC

Photo by Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union (8th place, 8 points, 2-3-2) vs. Toronto FC (11th place, 5 points, 1-4-1)
What: 2018 regular season game
Where: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario
When: Friday, May 4th at 8 p.m.
Watch: PHL17, ESPN+

The Union figured out a way to beat lowly D.C. United at home on Saturday. Wins are wins, though, and beating teams below you in the standings is Rule #1 in finding a way into the playoffs. In a short week, the team travel north of the border to face Toronto FC.

The Reds spent most of March and April fielding a team of USL players in league matches while they attempted to win the CONCACAF Champions League Cup. After losing in that final on penalties, Union fans will hope their Boys in Blue can catch the reigning MLS Cup champions while they’re still hungover. Toronto’s 2-goal meltdown against Chicago over the weekend suggests the Union might have a chance in doing so.

Scouting report: Toronto FC

Because of Toronto’s aforementioned dual personality in 2018, it’s a bit of a guess as to how they’ll line up on Friday night. Before their international final, they put out a 5-3-2 that was obliterated by Houston, 5-1. Against Chicago, it was a bit of a 4-1-4-1. In the CONCACAF semifinals against Club America, Toronto trotted out a 3-5-2. Shifting formations as circumstances dictate is something that does, in fact, happen in Major League Soccer. The thing that might be most problematic for the Reds isn’t their preferred formation, however, it’s the sheer number of injuries they’re dealing with.

Jozy Altidore is one of the walking wounded and he’ll be out for several weeks, as will five Toronto defenders. Giovinco and Michael Bradley, however, are fit. The reader will recall their international-level quality and should expect contributions from them, formation notwithstanding. Perhaps the smart money is on a formation that puts the Italian squarely between a Union rookie and a converted Right Back, as well as one that forces the Union to be creative beyond their possession. Perhaps the smartest money is on, “What did they do last week?” 4-1-4-1 it is then.

Oh, and Andre Blake should be prepared, superhero cape and all.

  • Injury report: OUT:Hagglund (D), Moor (D), Altidore (F), QUESTIONABLE: Mavinga (D), Morrow (D), Zavaleta (D)
  • Suspended: N/A
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Weird things happen when Toronto and Philadelphia meet up in Canada. Justin Mapp once had a brace en route to a 6-2 Union win. Alejandro Bedoya once had a chip so tasty that no one would have complained had he dipped it twice. Ken Tribbett once preemptively answered the question, “What’s the opposite of a game-winning bicycle kick?”

It would be sufficiently weird if the (nearly) least likely team to win MLS Cup went on the road and beat one of the favorites, even if said favorite were currently last in the league standings. Toronto FC is better than the Union in every measurable category, tangible and intangible. In economics, this is called “stochastic dominance,” which is fun to say.

Expect the Union to do what they do, as the saying goes, with time, place, and opponent representing variables that have no influence on the equation in question. Ray Gaddis will likely reprise his role on the left, as will Ilsinho on the right. Beyond that, it’s rinse, repeat, and “Keep Calm and 4-2-3-1.”

  • Injury report: OUT: Richie Marquez (D)
  • Suspended: None
Key matchup

Borek Dockal vs. Michael Bradley

Fresh off his Best XI performance against the “three garbage cans and a traffic cone” that are D.C. United’s defense, Borek Dockal gets a chance to go against the best American midfielder of all-time, Michael Bradley. Can Dockal grab another goal to go with his breathtaking first? Can Bradley risk marking the Union’s #10 out of the match considering how many backups will be beside and behind him trying to contain the Union onslaught?

“That’s why they play the game.”

Player to watch


The Brazilian was PSP’s player of the match against D.C. The issue isn’t Ilsinho’s skill, it’s his ability to consistently use that skill to productive ends. It’s time for the winger to string together a few great performances and he’ll get a chance against a depleted defense.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2-2 Toronto FC

The Union catch a sleeping giant this week, wounded literally and psychologically. There probably won’t be a better time for the Union to play Toronto, but it still seems unlikely the Boys in Blue best the champions. In fact, until the Union prove they can win away from home, a draw is the best case scenario.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Toronto wakes up. Giovinco picks apart the Union defense. Union can’t score. Final is 5-0.

  2. “Keep Calm and 4-2-3-1” needs to be a t-shirt as of yesterday.

  3. I see CJ scoring in this game. Bradley won’t be able to help himself and will want to play more of a Stopper in a 4 man diamond in the back, leaving CJ isolated with Van der Wiel. CJ is going to win one of those battles.
    Limited hopes of us actually winning despite their injuries. Who knows though, maybe some of OUR sleeping giants start to wake up. On the other hand, it’s tough to think that Vanney doesn’t have some tactical answer to whatever Jim throws at him. Knives in a gun fight and all…

  4. Last year Bedoya took Giovinco almost completely out of the game and also was killing them offensively. Look for our bigger name players to step up their game a notch.
    Also could be the game we finally get to see D. Jones this year.

    • Thank you for this comment. I should have incorporated that into the piece because Bedoya’s work was profoundl that day.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Are you talking about the freezing cold game at Talen which ended in a 2-2 draw or the one in Toronto where the Union were blown out 3-0? Or do you mean the 1-1 draw in Toronto in 2016 where Bedoya scored the goal Chris referred to.

    • Yes! People forget that the Union had one of their best performances of the season against Toronto early last season. Bedoya put Bradley in his pocket, Gooch ate Atom Ant Pudding for 45 minutes (and then he came off with an injury), and basically the Union just completely outplayed them. If it hadn’t been for a missed Bedoya PK, and a crappy penalty call in Toronto’s favor, we would’ve had 3 points.

      But that was at home, not on the road. The Union almost NEVER play like that on the road.

      Also, I would absolutely LOVE to see D. Jones in this match. But I cannot imagine that will happen, since he hasn’t even been on the Union’s 18 this season. In fact, I can’t imagine we’ll see him at all. Presumably, if Curtin is actually serious about rotating the squad this time, we might see Warren Creavalle start against Columbus on Wednesday.

      • I’m not quite sure why you think that we won’t see the same lineup as Saturday… I agree that it would be nice to see Jones, but it’s not happening.

      • I think Jones will never be in the 18 unless he’s starting. Same with Real. Either they start for the Union or Steel.

  5. scottymac says:

    This is the 8th prediction on PSP. The writers have predicted this team to be 6-1 (now 6-1-1). They have accurately predicted 1 score (an 0-2 FCD loss) and 2 other results (Ws vs NER and DCU).
    Do NOT go to Vegas with these guys.

    • UnionGoal says:

      Dan offers preview writers an optimism bonus.

      • It’s true. It’s the only reason I keep picking up assignments…

        In all honesty, though, 5 of the team’s first 7 at home with (arguably) the most talent they’ve ever had. It’s optimistic, sure, but also not wildly out of line.

      • Chris, I appreciate the optimism, and think you usually back it up well with insightful points on your podcast (you two do a really good job, btw). At some point though, we just have to start accepting reality. The default road prediction should be an L, and the home a D or L, until they actually get results against a team not named DC United.

    • Go to Vegas with the Bigsoccer guys. The prediction over there has been much more accurate.

    • Nick Fishman says:

      I’m very proud of my 2-0 FC Dallas prediction. The only solace I could take from watching that match is it furthered my dream of becoming a “Jimmy the Greek” type prognosticator.

  6. Keys to the game – 1. keep the ball, play possession. Giving the ball away could be deadly this time around.
    2. They need a D mid in this game. Having just Medujanin and Bedoya as your D mids won’t cut it. I mean who is considered the D mid in the middle? I have yet to figure that out. Replace either with Creavalle or D jones staying with Giovinco.
    3. Finally, ilsinho needs to start. Focus on getting the ball to him and Dockal. Fine Dockal at the top of the 18 and infront of goal. The rest should come…..( goal scoring opportunities). Also , Accam needs to work on just beating one defender and getting rid of the ball. Play it simple. Good luck boys in blue and gold. They have a chance if these factors can come together.

  7. This is a funny match. Exactly the sort Toronto should win in walk. And they should be desperate for points. But it’s also just the sort of match Union in which they’ll play above their quality, have a few lucky breaks and sneak a draw or even a win.

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