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Know Your Enemy: Philadelphia Union – Meeting the Third

It wasn't really the best time for Jack McInerney to show off his new levitation trick.
It wasn't really the best time for Jack McInerney to show off his new levitation trick.

And so begins the end.

Toronto FC will play out the remaining string of league matches with the knowledge that another year has passed them by; the playoffs - their oft-stated goal - is mathematically beyond reach and the Champions League... well, the candle has not yet been extinguished, but circumstance is grim.

Doom-mongering aside, Saturday offers TFC a chance to begin again, again.

Back when the season spiraled out of control with that nine-match losing streak, it was the Philadelphia Union who provided Toronto the much needed win - 1-0 - at BMO Field to quash that record. Now mired in an eight-match winless streak, Toronto once again is presented with an opportunity at redemption - however small a consolation that may provide.

The season has been similarly unkind to the Union, who sit just five points in front of the Reds, equally rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Some time has passed since the two last met at the start of July; a closer look at Philadelphia is in order.

Recent Form

Though Philly are winless in their last six matches, three of those contests have ended in draws - home to Salt Lake and away to New England and DC United - with two playing out as scoreless ones; goals have been difficult to come by of late with only three during the winless run.

August has been a cruel, if dramatic, month.

The run began with a 2-0 loss to Montreal, North of the border; the infamous Nelson Rivas head-butt match. That was followed by a 1-3 loss to Chicago back at PPL Park. Draws with DC - away; despite a crazy final few minutes that saw a penalty kick retaken and missed, as well as a few red cards - and Salt Lake - at home - followed before a dramatic last-second 1-2 loss to the in-form Columbus Crew.

A 0-0 draw at New England saw the Union enter a long spell of inactivity - fourteen days - on a positive, sure they dropped points at a fellow struggler, but a point on the road is never a bad thing, nor is a clean-sheet.

Projected Lineup

Since the last meeting former interim manager, John Hackworth, has made one slight alteration to the formation, committing two men to shield the back-four at the base of the midfield instead of just one. The overall formation resembles more of a 4-2-3-1 than the all-out 4-3-3 it had previously, but the two are quite similar.

A peculiar trade sent Lionard Pajoy to DC in exchange for Danny Cruz who has seamlessly integrated into the lineup; Freddy Adu has found his playing time limited of late, more often than not beginning from the bench and receiving paltry few minutes at the end of matches.

The projected lineup is as follows: Zac MacMath in goal; from right to left - Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, and Gabriel Farfan (Garfan) across the back; Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud at the base of the midfield with Danny Cruz, Michael Farfan (Marfan), and Freddy Adu across the top; Jack McInerney as the sole striker.

football formations

Any number of attacking options could be employed.

Adu was so impressive the last time the two met that it is hard to see him not given a start, but his relationship with Hackworth has been a mysterious one.

Antoine Hoppenot has proven quite useful, but is more effective as a substitute - rest assured he will see the pitch at some point on Saturday. Panamanian Gabriel Gomez has seen some duty, either wide in the midfield, or as one of the pair shielding the defense and could feature after returning from international duty.

Keon Daniel, Josue Martinez, and Chandler Hoffman, like Adu, have found minutes rare over the last month or so and are all available on Saturday.

Youngster Raymond Gaddis has proven a useful addition to the defense - either as an outside back or in the centre - when called upon, while Bakary Soumare struggled in his lone start against his former club, Chicago, still lacking the match fitness to hop into a league midseason.

Last Meeting

The two last met on July 8th win the Union strolling out 3-0 winners at home.

It was a dire performance from Toronto in the midst of another long run of fixtures - eleven in just over a month - that ended a five-match unbeaten run and displayed a weakness in a side that thought it had shored up its defensive woes.

Adu was on fire that day, evidenced by his tiptoeing through the middle of the defense early. Only the recovering block of Richard Eckersley would deny him that time.

Gomez opened the scoring a little over a half hour into the match; a Marfan ball over the top found McInerney in space on the right side of the pitch, his cutback found Gomez to the left of the penalty spot. A right-footed strike deflected off Eckersley and dribbled unreachably back across Milos Kocic and in at the right-post. Toronto was unlucky to concede in such a manner, despite having largely been outplayed.

Adu himself doubled the lead two minutes later, sneaking a strike under Kocic from the left. McInerney again played a role, switching the play to Garfan on the left flank. The full-back rolled a through-ball inside Hall for Adu to run onto and his left-footed strike from a tight angle should not have gotten past the keeper, but misfortune saw the Reds fall further behind.

Hoppenot capped off the evening with a third in the final quarter of an hour. A goal-kick was poorly cleared by Logan Emory straight to Marfan, who threaded a pass to Hoppenot, again, inside the full-back. The striker took his chance early, hitting it with the right-boot into the far-netting giving Kocic no chance.

Toronto's best chance came shortly after when Ryan Johnson's attempt was half-cleared to Danny Koevermans at the top of the box, but his karate kick volley was cleared off the line by Williams.

Mercifully the referee allowed for no stoppage time and blew the final whistle once the ninety were complete.

Bullet Points

When Philly presses forward they do leave space in behind their full-backs that can be exploited. That weakness, combined with generally poor marking when attacked from wide areas, is a vulnerability Toronto should look to expose.

New York scored both their goals from crosses into the box to Kenny Cooper, while Columbus' winning goal was a gift when Garfan didn't recognize the danger of Eddie Gaven floating in alone unmarked.

With Ashtone Morgan suspended, if Emory is played at left-back it could be a long afternoon; he is not a full-back and the ability of Philly's front-men - McInerney, Adu, Hoppenot - to stretch the play into the wide areas caused a lot of trouble in the last meeting.

The pesky Hoppenot is a red card machine. Columbus' Josh Williams, DC's Emilano Dudar, and Montreal's Nelson Rivas, have all been so enraged by his tenacious play and dramatic antics that they have seen red in recent matches.

New England's AJ Soares gave him a bit of the rough treatment as well, but only saw yellow.

Diving has been a problem for the Union - at least three cards in recent matches - for simulation, though to be fair one was a referee mistake and should have been a penalty kick. Garfan's attempt versus New York was the most egregious.

MacMath in goal, as a young keeper, is prone to the occasional error and is vulnerable. It has been a season of gaffs mixed with strong performances that have been costly. His footwork seems to leave him off-balance and overreaching if not granted the proper time to get set. Toronto should look to keep the pressure on him and get shots on goal.

Interestingly, in their short history, the Union have won all five matches they have played when returning to action from a long break.