Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union: No Shield, No Spoon; Here's A String To Play With

OK Jon, we know you're back - you don't need to yell! - USA TODAY Sports

We're going to win the league! Wait, we're not? We're going to lose the league? Not that either? Umm, we're going to play a few more games and impatiently wait for next season? That's the one!

Welcome to playing out the string folks - it's an odd time to watch your team at this part of the season.  With no relegation (damn, I wish we had relegation), there's little to inspire the players or the fans.  Sure there are a few still playing for jobs, some working on their game after injury and the one of two playing for bench spots.  Of course there's the usual talk of playing spoiler and as the teams that Toronto has to play in the next few weeks are all very much in danger of falling below the red line it's not completely useless talk.

But just like grasping at the straw that was the win (as enjoyable as that was) from last week, we shouldn't look upon these games as something that will add actual meaning to yet another lost season.  I take some small joy in besting last year's meagre point total and that they're less of a goal sieve than they've been in the past - 45 GA this year (so far) vs. 62 GA last year. But of course the goals for have been much harder to come by; only 29 to last year's final tally of 36. That's not to say that 7 goals in 3 games is impossible, but this is TFC after all - home of the missing attack, the missing midfield and the oft farcical finishing.

The "good news" is that Robert Earnshaw has travelled with the team and is fit for selection.  Whether or not he starts or if Andrew Wiedeman and Bright Dike begin the game, anything in the way of options that aren't named Justin Braun should be a good thing.  In fact Nelsen is suddenly faced with a plethora of lineup choices with the return of Jonathan Osorio and Steven Caldwell from suspension.

However at this point in the season does having options matter?  Gale Agbossoumonde and Doneil Henry acquitted themselves fairly well last week - why not let the kids play? And should Nelsen heed the calls (or shouts) to put Kyle Bekker out on the pitch?  Don't expect it folks, Nelsen's been pretty up front about his decision to ease the kids along:

"I think there are some guys who deserve to get some game time because of their application during the season and their attitudes," Nelsen said. "But you also have to reward people who have played well." (in regards to Dike and Darel Russell)

"For all the younger guys, especially these days, it is a generation of instant gratification," Nelsen said." They ask for something and they get given it. In football it is sometimes best to put your head down while knowing that your time will come. It is about how your attitude is when you aren’t getting playing time. That’s when you can kind of fall by the wayside like so many thousands and millions of players have in the past."

"Every player on this squad has had such a good attitude. They work their backsides off every day at training and they want to get better. I can’t ask for anything more from them."

And why wouldn't Nelsen want to reward Russell for his recent play?  Rusty's been one of the bright spots (and you know, scorer of goals) and with Matias Laba out for the season - who else is he going to put out there?  Same goes for Bright (B'Right?) Dike - as he continues to gain fitness and get accustomed to his teammates his goal crashing ways have at the very least brought some energy (and hey, a goal!) to what is usually a stagnant TFC attack.

So bring on the Union!  A team in desperate need of a win if they want to cling to that last playoff spot - they're by no means a lock for that spot and the middle part of the table is so close that it will be right to the final game of the season before the last teams are determined.  Toronto has done well against the Union (2 draws notwithstanding) so far this season.  In both of their previous meetings Toronto had a player sent off (take a bow Ashtone & Doneil), and in both they allowed Jack McInerney to score the equalizer in added time.  Does anyone else sense an unpleasant ending to this trilogy?

Lest you think that Philly need to rely upon good old Jack Mac (and Ernie) for goals don't forget they've got Conor Casey (he of the game winner against SKC last week), Antoine Hoppenot and Sebastien Le Toux all available to call upon to cause trouble. Joyous.  Although not a high scoring team, one of the aforementioned can usually be counted on to score at the opportune moment.

Really the best that Toronto can likely hope for is to get an early goal and then not go down a man and not concede in Tobias Time (what? It was a thing!) to McInerney.  There is a wee bit of joy to be had in playing the role of spoiler when you're playing out the string.  TFC have three chances to do that - hey, it could happen.  Come on you Reds; let's spoil someone else's day.

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