Alright, so after losing against Chicago, everyone else now agrees with what was mathematically 100% true before that game (Columbus and DC have to play each other, it's physically impossible for them both to finish on 42 or lower, we were already done), and realistically obvious probably about 5 games into the season, Toronto FC are now officially out of the playoffs. 2012 is dead, long live 2013. There's only so many times you can say 'it's all about next year' and 'it's a chance to see what some people can do' so let's see, what can this game preview be all about?
Well there's the pursuit of history. TFC need:
4 points from their next 2 games just to tie the 30 game record of 25 points put up by Mo Johnston's 2007 expansion side.
To concede 1 goal or less in the next two games combined to avoid overtaking the 30 game high of 52 conceded by Aron Winter's 2011 team.
2 points from these 2 games to overtake the 3 points in 10 games record that got Aron Winter fired.
Just 1 point from these 2 games to avoid tying the 2007 team's record for worst 10 game stretch in team history (July 22nd to September 29, 2 points.)
Taking away all that context and focusing on just this game, the whole 'basement battle' 'toilet bowl' angle works I guess, as Philadelphia's season has followed a very similar path to TFC's, if always a few points ahead. A poor start, a coach fired in the June international break, a resurgence under the new coach, followed by a plateau and slow sink back to where they came from. That long steady sink has seen them collect just 3 points in their current 6 game winless streak.
Yep, between the 2 teams, since Philly last won on July 29th, they've played 13 league games, won 0 and collected 5 points, while being collectively outscored 20-10! Game of the week right here folks!
A TFC win would move them within 2 points of the Union in the battle for 18th place, but for the Union, there's real progress at stake here. 3 points, if other results go their way could see them get to the heady heights of 15th place (unless they score 12, in which case they could climb above Colorado to get 14th).
Also at stake for the bimbos is a chance to fully erase the stench of being the only team to lose to Aron Winter's TFC in the league this year. They did of course partially erase that indignity with a 3-0 thumping in the away fixture, but a win to clinch the season series would fully restore their honour.
So that's what to play for, where can TFC fans find hope of getting back on the right track? Well there's returning internationals to bolster the lineup, that can only help. Ashtone Morgan is an obvious upgrade on Logan Emory(Edit: Never mind, he's suspended, so, Emory again I guess), though presuming Richard Eckersley will continue to be played in the middle, it's right back and Jeremy Hall that's the real weak link in defence these days.
Terry Dunfield is available again after his suspension for the Chicago game (given the lack of midfield options and the fact he didn't play at all for Canada, I think Paul Mariner would have had him out there on Wednesday if he had the chance). That should see a return to the standard 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders, rather than the 3-3-2-2 that we saw for most of Wednesday's game, with Aaron Maund continuing his education there.
Ryan Johnson's return, along with Reggie Lambe being back from injury means there's suddenly options for the attacking spots. Eric Hassli will start up front, that much is true, and hopefully his goal on Wednesday, combined with the return of some better quality partners will see less of the frustration that was so evident in his body language on Wednesday. Alongside him, I'd go with Ryan Johnson, back from World Cup Qualifying for Jamaica. Johnson out on the left of midfield really didn't work well, he looked much better when moved back up front, and he got a very well taken goal against Kansas City so hopefully that can be the start of something good.
Mariner's comments after Wednesday's loss focused on a lack of effort and fight that he wasn't too keen on, and the fact that Andrew Wiedeman was subbed off at half time suggests he may have been the biggest culprit in Mariner's eyes, so I think now that Reggie Lambe's back, Wiedeman can go back to being Andy the eye candy on the bench. Add on Luis Silva, who set up Hassli's goal beautifully on Wednesday, probably out on the left, but maybe up front with Johnson pushed out, who knows, and there's your 11, an undeniable improvement.
Unless Mariner's lost the room already, there should be a much better effort on the pitch after Wednesday night's outburst to go along with that improvement in quality. Philadelphia are also pretty crap, there's a very good chance they could once again be the cure for what ails us, the hopeless and beatable hero we've been dreaming of. A win here is very plausible, I'm almost convincing myself. It'd certainly be a welcome relief to whatever small number of long suffering supporters show up for this one, just as long as Mariner doesn't think a win over the Union is a recipe for relief, relaxation and job security.