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Know Your Enemy: Philadelphia Union – Meeting the First; Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

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The second half of the latest installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing Toronto FC's upcoming opponent, the Philadelphia Union, reviewing the game film for strengths and weaknesses and highlighting some points of interest

Jim Curtain, the man who turned their season around, but has he done enough to remove the interim tag?
Jim Curtain, the man who turned their season around, but has he done enough to remove the interim tag?
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Part One, reviewing Philadelphia’s lineup and form was posted yesterday

The Tactics

When assessing the threat posed by Philadelphia, one need look no further than Sebastien Le Toux, who has experience a resurgence in his form since Jim Curtain took over from John Hackworth.

Aside from tearing it up in the Open Cup, Le Toux has seven goals in the nine league games since the coaching change, including five in their last six matches, and a goal and three assists in their most recent match against San Jose.

When a player is in form like that, the ball just seems to fall to him and every touch, every shot, is a potential goal. Against New England, it was a rather casual build-up, with Le Toux playing out wide to Andrew Wenger on the right. The return ball finds Le Toux in a pocket of space, two touches later the ball is in the back of the net:


Toronto will have to keep a close eye on the movements of Le Toux; he has a knack for finding those pockets of space. Michael Bradley and Collen Warner in particular will need to be alert to him dropping off the back-line, while defenders will have to be wary of him drifting into wide positions.

When not making space in tight quarters, Le Toux is part of a devastating counterattack, making intelligent runs and communicating well with his teammates. Cristian Maidana has been injured of late, missing their last five matches, but he could be available and has turned himself into an excellent provider, racking up eight assists this season.

His vision and ability on the ball make him a constant threat; when combined with Le Toux and Conor Casey in attack, he can do things like this, against Vancouver:


The move to break out of his own half courtesy a one-two with Casey out wide, busting up-field before laying an inch-perfect ball into the path of Vincent Nogueira who unselfishly squared to Le Toux was a devastating example of a counterattack.

Vancouver was shredded by that Philadelphia attack and Toronto’s defense is anything but compact and on the same page – they must not allow Philadelphia to run at them like that. There is enough speed on TFC to handle the Union, but they cannot get drawn out of position – something that is very much a risk.

Even Danny Cruz, not known for his goal-scoring prowess, will punish if allowed to run at goal – a nice finish against New England.

One more example of how quickly Philadelphia can go from back to front came against Salt Lake, with right-back Sheanon Williams starting a play that ended with Wenger open at the back-post for a tidy finish:


When not tearing teams to pieces on the break, Philadelphia excels at finding little pockets of space in the box. Le Toux can do it, but so too can Conor Casey and newcomer Brian Brown.

Everybody in the league should know by now that Casey is a target in the box, what makes him so dangerous is that despite that fact, he still gets open. Here against Colorado, darting to the near-post to smash in a Ray Gaddis cross:


Or using his head here, against Chivas, on a lovely Maidana cross:


Jamaican forward Brown, in his limited minutes, has shown himself capable of finding those space, lurking off the shoulder of Kevin Ellis to level in Kansas City. And then there is Mo Edu, who is a towering presence on set-pieces.

One worrying note, Philadelphia scores penalties – they have six, and Toronto concedes penalties – six, as well. Le Toux is their taker, his is quite proficient, a perfect twelve from twelve for the Union. And Zac MacMath can save them, with two already this season.

Exploitation

With all the trouble Philadelphia has had in fielding a regular back-line, it should come as no surprise that there have been serious gaps in their defenses. Consider this example against San Jose:


There are two things one can say with confidence about San Jose – mark Chris Wondolowski, he will punish if given space, and close down Shea Salinas, he will hit dangerous crosses. Philadelphia did neither.

That poor defensive awareness of danger reared its head against Montreal as well, Maxim Tissot arriving off the back-shoulder to touch in some late consolation.

The Union have not dealt well with horizontal movement across the back either, with Colorado’s Dillon Serna able to cross them up with a quick inside move after the motion of the play had Philadelphia moving in the opposite direction:


Similarly, defensive breakdowns, like this deep turnover against Los Angeles, have sent Philadelphia scrambling:


Toronto should look to pressure Philadelphia on the ball, causing such turnovers, while the wide speed in the form of Dominic Oduro and Jackson can expose that horizontal frailty; Gilberto has shown himself capable of using that space well.

The Union and their revolving back-line have also struggled when it comes to marking on set-pieces, especially corner kicks, with the likes of Jeff Larentowicz, Juan Luis Anangono, AJ Soares, and Chad Marshall each punishing them. Larentowicz’ free-header is perhaps the most egregious:


He was not marked at all on that play. Toronto has the big bodies to make hay from such plays with Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund the most obvious candidates. The one caveat is that Toronto has to get the ball into dangerous positions; far too often dead-balls from Collen Warner, Jonathan Osorio, and Michael Bradley have failed to beat the first man or been woefully over-hit.

Points of Interest

This is the first meeting between the two sides this season with their second following in short order, on Saturday in Toronto.

They have met ten times in the league, with Toronto winning two, Philadelphia four, and draws in the other four matches.

Toronto has never won in Philadelphia, where the Union have won three and drawn two. The Union are unbeaten in the last five meetings, with wins either side of three-straight 1-1 draws.

The most recent meeting was a 1-0 Philadelphia win last October, when Kleberson scored directly from a free-kick deep into stoppage-time at PPL Park.