The Voyaguers Cup is now squarely in the rear-view mirror and Toronto FC has a fourth straight title to make them feel good about themselves. Problem is that they now return to the grim reality that is their 0-9 start to the MLS season. They return to league play against the Philadelphia Union in a match that sadly represents one of their best chances to pick up a point any time soon.
TFC will be hoping to build on their cup win and the good feeling that it gave the team to try and get a result but the problem is that thus far good form in cup play has made no difference in league form. They followed up good away draws against the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps with a pair of defeats to DC United just like their good results in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier in the spring did nothing to get them off to a good start in the league season. That is a trend they have to reverse if they are going to even try to salvage some respect out of this season.
Problem is that many of the games in the first nine were ones that would have been circled as being winnable matches. Now though, they are about to embark on a fairly tough run of games. After the Union they get to visit two of MLS's nicest, but most difficult new venues to play Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo. So if they do not want to be in danger of reaching the all time record of 12 straight defeats this is the best chance that will come to end the losing run.
The Union are possibly the only team in the league that is as messed up as TFC these days. They recently traded away Danny Califf to Chivas USA which when added to their offseason moves makes them one of the youngest and least experienced teams in the league. They count on the likes of Freddie Adu, Sheanon Williams, Danny Mwanga, and Zac MacMath as key members of their squad despite all being quite young still. That means they are in a similar position to TFC of having to rely on players developing rapidly in a less than ideal setting.For this game the Union may be without their first choice in goal. MacMath is still listed as out as he continues to suffer from concussion symptoms that sidelined him last week as well. His head coach did say that he expected to have him available for the match with backup keeper Chase Harrison unlikely to be fit for the match due to heavy bruising on his ankle. With MacMath just returning from injury and having been limited in training Toronto FC will certainly be looking to test him early and often to take advantage of any lack of sharpness.
TFC will look to do just that with what could be close to the first choice attacking group. Eric Avila has been ruled out with an ankle injury but he should be the only one missing. Danny Koevermans and Nick Soolsma could both be in line for their first starts since coming back from injury which could see Ryan Johnson and Reggie Lambe dropped to the bench. That would be a bit of a surprise though as those two have probably been Toronto's best attacking options in recent matches. The case for dropping Johnson is a simple one though, he has yet to miss a minute of play this season and on several occasions he has looked completely gassed. Giving him a chance to have a bit of a break before he goes off to join the Jamaican National team might be the best for everyone.
There really are not that many changes that should be expected in the rest of the lineup. Torsten Frings, still listed as questionable, should be available to start the match having gone 90 minutes against the Whitecaps and passed through training with no issues this week. He might be joined in the holding midfield roles by Terry Dunfield this time as Julian De Guzman is likely to be given some time off after his midweek sending off. There is also a chance that Aron Winter will finally give Matt Stinson some playing time but based on his lack of minutes this season that seems to be fairly unlikely.
In the defensive line the options are going to be a bit limited. Miguel Aceval is still not fully fit, Logan Emory is out with a shoulder injury, and Aaron Maund is out with an eye injury. That leave Doneil Henry, Adrian Cann, Ty Harden, Ashtone Morgan, Richard Eckersley, and Jeremy Hall to chose from. With the exception of Harden, who has been stapled to the bench since the return of Cann, the rest should have some role to play in the match. The biggest question is who will get the start at right back with Hall having gotten the majority of the minutes there in recent weeks despite Eckersley having the position locked down at the start of the season.
This game will still be too soon for a return by Dicoy Williams but their is a chance that the Jamaican defender will see some form of involvement in the upcoming reserve league matches. His return would further complicate the picture at CB which at this stage would probably not be a good thing. Cann and Henry have been given a chance to play the majority of the minutes together in recent weeks and for the first time all year they are starting to provide TFC with a solid and regular defensive pairing. They still have their issues but they seem to be the best option as it is the only pairing that gives Frings the freedom to get forward.
No matter what XI Winter goes with for this game the key will be to find some way to finally play like they did in cup action. If they could duplicate their performances against the Whitecaps in this match there is no reason they can not come away with a good result. If they go back to normal, well, we all know what happened in this fixture last year.