A bit of a break from the usual How You Doin'? question and answer routine, here's Eugene from Brotherly Game to tell you what you need to know about the Philadelphia Union
Who'd have thought a few months ago that this match between Philadelphia and Toronto would have had such playoff implications? Way back when, the Union were one point out of first in the Eastern Conference and had the league's hottest scorer. Now the Union are colder than the Canadian winter and the league's hottest scorer hasn't scored since June first. In fact the entire team has a total of two goals since mid-August and is now hanging on to the fifth and final playoff spot by a thread. In typical Philadelphia fashion, the rumblings to fire Head Coach John Hackworth have been steadily growing as the team has floundered. But a surprise win at Kansas City last week has quieted down some of those voices and given Union fans hope of still making the playoffs.
What to know about the Union:
The Union don't vary much tactically or personnel-wise from game to game. Expect a modified 4-1-3-2 with the two outside midfielders playing out further on the wing than a typical 4-1-3-2. This allows the speedy fullback tandem of Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis to run the overlap with wingers Sebastien Le Toux and Fabinho while Brian Carroll holds down the defensive midfielder slot ahead of center backs Amobi Okugo (himself a converted defensive midfielder) and Jeff Parke. Keon Daniel acts as a holding midfielder while Conor Casey and Jack McInerney are the "thunder and lightning" combination of strength and speed at the striker position. Goalkeeper Zac MacMath has shown some flashes of brilliance, however those flashes always seems to be tempered with a costly miscue. Expect Le Toux to come out at about the 65th minute for Antoine Hoppenot, Casey is usually subbed at the 75th for Aaron Wheeler, and lately Keon Daniel has been pulled in about the 80th minute for Michael Farfan. Every. Single. Game.
What Toronto FC will need to do to win:
If Ryan Nelsen can adapt to these personnel decisions (although are they really decisions when they're the same every week?) and act accordingly then Toronto should stand a good chance of spoiling the Union's push to not fall out of the playoffs. Toronto should also play into the Union's propensity to overlook teams that have worse records than them. New England was able to embarrass the Union 5-1 in August after the Union beat DC United and tie New York Red Bulls - all of which are I-95 rivals of the Union. Ryan Nelsen also may want to use ex-Union players Ryan Richter and Chris Konopka, both of whom may feel they have something to prove to their old club. Richter performed very well when he came on for the injured Darel Russell in the 1-1 draw in April at PPL Park.
What the Union will need to do to win:
Try to mix up the lineup and formation. Try not to show they're a one trick pony and have some variation and depth to them. Don't look to the I-95 rivalry matchup next week against DC United. But most of all, they will need to put the ball into the net. The defense has shown it can hold together and keep the score low, however it's all for naught if the best they can hope for is a 0-0 draw. Conor Casey has born most of the load since McInerney went cold, but even the big man can't do it alone. Someone will have to help, whether it's in the form of a midfielder being creative with the ball and opening up opportunities or someone else getting lucky and banging one home off of a free kick or scrum in the box.
A bore 0-0 draw.