Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC

 

Who: Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC
What: The opening 2019 regular season game for both sides
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, PA
When: Saturday, March 2 at 1:00 pm
Watch: 6abc, ESPN+
Whistle: Nima Saghafi; Logan Brown, Jose Da Silva; Marcos DeOliveira; VAR – Alan Kelly

It’s here.

Philadelphia Union’s regular MLS season begins Saturday, as they face Toronto FC at home. The Union are perhaps the team in MLS with the biggest question mark next to their name. Can Jim Curtin switch his tactical approach effectively? Is that switch the right move for the Union? Can Marco Fabian live up to his hype after finding little success in Germany last season? Who will play in the midfield behind Fabian?

Finally, as Philadelphia match up against the former treble winners, so many of those questions and more will begin to find answers. Let’s see what some of those answers might look like:

Scouting report: Toronto FC

This is a difficult one. Just over a year ago, Toronto FC won the first and only treble in MLS history. They had a solid, deep roster that boasted the best MLS player of all time in Sebastien Giovinco. Pundits across the continent speculated as to whether or not this team would go down as the greatest MLS team to date.

Then the 2018 season happened. Despite having largely the same roster as in their landmark season, Toronto started off poorly and finished poorly, with a poor part in the middle. Now, after losing two superstars in Giovinco and Victor Vazquez, it seems that Toronto have only gotten worse, flaming out of the Concacaf Champions league this week.

The reason for their downfall is, in large part, a lack of playing identity. That’s what makes this scouting report so difficult. Let’s be clear: Between Jozy Altidore, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, and Jonathan Osorio, Toronto FC have the personnel to be a great team. But unlike the Union, they do not seem to have a defining set of principles on offense, defense, or in either transition.

Toronto’s best attribute is their midfield. You can expect Bradley to sit deep to protect Toronto’s backline on defense and in transition, while distributing the ball either to the wings or to Delgado or Osorio on offense. Both players, and Bradley when he moves up the pitch, are more than capable of creating chances for themselves or finding Jozy Altidore (if healthy) in the box.

Toronto’s biggest weakness remains their defense, as it was last season. Although they added star defender Laurent Ciman, the aging center back is often inconsistent and perhaps not enough to bring one of the worst defenses in MLS last season up to snuff.

If the Union want a victory, their best hope is to catch Michael Bradley high up the pitch as they transition to offense and exploit Toronto’s backline.

  • Injury report: Questionable – D – Eric Zavaleta (ankle), Drew Moor (hamstring); F – Jozy Altidore (ankle)
  • Suspended: None.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

A lot has been made about Philadelphia’s changes this offseason, but when it comes down to it, there is still a lot we don’t know.

The Union will likely be playing a 4-4-2 diamond that emphasizes quick transitions from defense to offense and controlling the spine of the pitch. Other than that, a lot of how the Union play will depend on the personnel head coach Jim Curtin employs. Let’s start from the back and work our way up:

Andre Blake will be in goal.

Glad we got that out of the way. Now, in the middle of the backline, expect to see Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie. On the left, Kai Wagner seems to have the edge over Matt Real. On the right, rumors of Olivier Mbaizo suffering from injury may keep him on the bench in place of Ray Gaddis. Both Wagner and Gaddis will be tasked with covering a lot of ground up and down the wings, which hasn’t historically been Gaddis’s strong point. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this system.

In the middle, we find the diamond. Ah, the diamond. The source of so much confusion and speculation this offseason. Who will the shuttlers be? Who will the No. 6 be?

I expect Haris Medunjanin will start the season at the No. 6 in the back of the diamond. Curtin is a Medunjanin fan, and it’s the Bosnian’s job to lose for now. Curtin could fill his two shuttler spots with several different combinations, but Alejandro Bedoya and Ilsinho seem like the most Curtin-esque options for Saturday. The head coach likes to play aggressively at home, and that is the most offensively aggressive combination.

Of course, new signing and Mexico international midfielder Marco Fabian will start at the top of the diamond. Fabian is a threat from anywhere within 20 yards of the net. That’s good news for strikers Sergio Santos and Cory Burke, who will find more space as Toronto’s defense is forced to account for Fabian’s creativity and long-shot threat.

  • Injury report: None.
  • Suspended: None.
Key matchup

Marco Fabian vs. Michael Bradley. These are arguably the two best players for their respective sides, and they’ll be going to head to head for a lot of this match. Between Bradley’s defense prowess and Fabian’s offensive threat, we could see fireworks. Perhaps most intriguing of all is how Fabian will press Bradley when Bradley sits deep to distribute. This may be the best matchup to start the season the Union have ever had.

Player to watch

Marco Fabian. Usually I like to give this to someone from the other team. After all, many readers watch Union players every week. This is different. Marco Fabian is a different kind of player, and this is the first time anyone will get to see him on an MLS pitch. Union fans, Toronto fans, and MLS fans across the country should tune in to see how he does.

Prediction

Philadelphia Union 3 – 2 Toronto FC. Philly’s backline is young, and all 11 players are playing in a new system. That combination is bound to result in a few defensive blunders. Still, this new system centers on quick transitions and high octane offense, and Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has given them the personnel for it. They’ll score three times to the cheers of a large crowd in Chester for an entertaining opening match and a victory to start the season.

9 Comments

  1. There is no way your starting lineup is right. Bedoya on the left side??? Ilsinho starting??

    Meanwhile, I fear you may be right about Medunjanin starting at the 6. If he does, that seals a loss — probably 3-1. It’s gonna take a few weeks before we score multiple goals in a game.

    • Scottso, that is a lineup Curtin was touting. I wouldn’t be so surprised to see it tomorrow if I were you.

      • Yeah, I think the bigger question is Fafa or Burke.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        It makes sense defensively (sort of) with Bedoya covering for Wagner and Ray making up for Ilsinho. So many unknowns, though…. the anxiety.

  2. I really can’t express how much I dislike that starting midfield combination. I can only hope the Union get ahead early and substitutions are made shortly after the 60 minute mark. Not going hold my breath.
    .
    I see a 2-2 finish with Union going up early and Toronto coming back late as Curtin leaves defensive subs for too late and it hurts them in the end.

  3. Ilsinho in the starting 11? Yikes. I’d rather see him coming off the bench

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    aaronson fontana jones
    or
    methuselah nebuchadnezzar and Old Deutoronomy
    .
    I love the starting lineup if Jones was methuselah and fontana was nebuchadnezzar
    .
    Old Deutoronomy can be at the top of the diamond all season leading the young Jellicle Cats in my opinion
    .
    if bedoya and marco fabian can’t bring structure to two young studs look to earn their respect… what is this youth about after all?
    .
    guess we’ll see.

  5. We have too many strikers and not enough central midfielders. I’d love to see if they could get Accam, Fafa or Sergio to be effective as the left side #8 with Bedoya on the right. Ilson can be a supersub when the legs are tired.
    Not sure about Haris guarding our young back line either.

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