Orlando, 1 PM Eastern
Steam @ torontofc.ca
Preseason continues on Wednesday for Toronto FC as they are once again in action at the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic. This time they take on the Philadelphia Union in their final game of group play. With a 0-1-1 record so far they sit bottom of the group behind the Union on goal difference as Philly have a 1-1 draw against a Orlando and a 1-0 defeat against the Columbus Crew so far in the event.
The winner of this game could finish the group as high as second depending what happens between Columbus and Orlando in the other game. This is preseason though so none of that really matters as TFC will be more concerned about getting the most out of these final two games than about the actual results.
In the Union, TFC will be taking on another one of MLS' most improved sides. They already defeated the nearly completely rebuilt D.C. United earlier in preseason but that was when they were still missing a number of key faces. Now they get the Union who have bolstered their squad all over the field.
The key additions for the Union are in the middle of the park where they essentially went out and bought themselves a completely new midfield. They added former Toronto FC draft pick Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Cristian Maidana leaving them looking a lot more impressive in the middle than they did last season. They also brought in Austin Berry to improve their defenders, drafted Andre Blake to compete for minutes in goal, and got Ethan White from DCU.
In normal MLS terms it was an impressive offseason for the Union. They made moves to improve their team all over the field and addressed the majority of their weaknesses. They also did it on a budget which is apparently something that Nick Sakiewicz is quite proud of. He aimed some major criticism TFC's way earlier this offseason for the fact that they spent nearly $100 million on players this offseason. His comments seemed to come out of frustration though as he was interested in Michael Bradley but had to instead settle for a more affordable option in Maurice Edu.
Tim Leiweke was quick to defend his offseason actions though pointing out that Toronto is really playing on a different level of the Union when it comes to generating revenue. With season tickets all sold out for 2014 and the waiting list once again starting to build he is already looking right in his assessment that the club could support such major spending.
In the end, this is not really a battle of the haves and have nots though. Both these teams made significant investments in their teams this offseason and will now be expecting to see that pay off on the field. For the Union the goal will be to return to the playoffs having missed out the past two seasons and for Toronto making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history seems to be the bare minimum when it comes to expectations.
As for the game itself it will be interesting to see what sort of lineup Ryan Nelsen goes with at 1 PM on Wednesday. He rested a number of his key players last match and should be able to go with close to his best XI for heavy minutes in this game if he wants to.
For fans starting to get a bit antsy about the way the team has been preforming so far in preseason seeing something close to the starting lineup again will either push them over the edge or settle things down. It would certainly be nice to see some more signs that the team is moving from just working on fitness towards actually looking like a cohesive unit.
The start of the season is still 17 days away for Toronto and Jermain Defoe has not even arrived in town yet but with only two games remaining on their preseason schedule before they head back to Toronto for their final preparations it would be nice to see them start looking like the team fans will be hoping to see come that opening game against the Seattle Sounders.
Along with looking for improvements it will be interesting to again watch which of the fringe players get to see the field. For the likes of Dan Lovitz and Kene Eze the time to impress during games is running out so if they do see the field against the Union it will be important for them to make the most of it. Nick Hagglund seems like a good bet to stick around beyond preseason but it will be worth watching where he gets to play in this game as he has been out of position a fair bit at right back so far.
With no trialists in camp the game lacks excitement on that front. Outside of the draft picks this looks to be a fairly settled roster with the only other auditions going on being for players looking to impress the Wilmington Hammerheads coaching staff. Manny Aparicio made the most of that chance in the last game as he looked very good against Orlando. It will be worth watching to see if either Quillan Roberts (highly unlikely) or Jordan Hamilton see the field in this game to get their chance to impress.
Join us just prior to 1 PM to follow along with the game if you are lucky enough to be able to watch preseason soccer in the middle of a weekday.