Part One, looking over Philadelphia's Lineup and Form was posted earlier
The Union have struggled this season, there is no debating that. But hidden beneath the bare results are a lot of positives. A 3-3 draw in Salt Lake, a 1-2 lead at Kansas City as stoppage-time began, losses to Dallas and Chicago marred by red cards, and a 1-0 lead against New England to the hour-mark, until running out of gas as a heavy schedule finally caught up.
Toronto will not have it easy on Saturday.
The primary man to watch will be Cristian Maidana. With a goal and two assists, he is hardly amongst the league leaders, but having struggled with an MCL sprain for large swathes of the season, those tallies look more impressive when it is considered that he has barely played more than 300 minutes (315, to be exact).
Primarily a play-maker, Maidana's two assists have come in very different manners - flinging forward a desperate late ball that led to CJ Sapong's equalizer against New York City and amazingly from a throw-in, sharply spotting the space ahead of Fernando Aristeguieta against Salt Lake (when was the last time someone other than Matt Besler registered an assist from a throw-in).
Here is the goal in Salt Lake:
Though neither really exhibits the sort of quality he is capable of, they do show his awareness and his timeliness. And if Toronto gives him time and space, or allows him a look from a dead-ball situation, Maidana may just opt to have a go at goal himself, which he did to aplomb against New England:
Whether direct on goal, or by getting on the end of deliveries, Philadelphia can be a handful from set-pieces. Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, and Sebastian Le Toux are all capable of providing quality service, while Sapong (late-breaking news indicates he will not be available for Saturday), Maurice Edu, Steven Vitoria, and Conor Casey are all potential targets. And it should not be forgotten that Sheanon Williams has a troublesome long-throw that must be considered.
Philadelphia, when they commit numbers forward, has plenty of in-box presence.
Consider the equalizer against New York City. Edu wins the initial header from the Maidana hail-mary - close observers can see Vitoria lurking at the top of the box, drawing the attention of Andrew Jacobson - while Sapong arrives to finish the knockdown in the 86th minute:
That combination of targets and delivery is trouble enough for most, but with the addition of Aristeguieta, Jim Curtin has added yet another dimension to the Union attack.
Hardly the most imposing of figures, what Aristeguieta excels at is keeping busy and picking his spots – that is not to say he is not able on set-pieces, as KC discovered. He is a buzzing presence, chasing down every ball and pestering defenders. His second goal against Salt Lake (as seen above) is a good example, but his first was perhaps more so.
It takes a certain type of predatory striker to not only get himself into position, with his near-post run – it is amazing how often players give up on a ball rather than follow it up – but also to stay sharp enough to react quickly to the deflection and subsequent Nick Rimando save, slowing up enough to put on the brakes and nod in the goal:
Should Aristeguieta get the start, which appears more likely with the Sapong news – presuming he can over come injury concerns, Toronto will have to track his machinations closely.
And neither Le Toux, nor Andrew Wenger have even been discussed yet. Playing much of the season as the wide attacking-midfielders, both have a tendency to drift wide, scything towards goal or sending in crosses.
Philadelphia's game-winner in the first match against New York City is an example of such play.
Wenger takes on Javier Calle on the left, twisting up the defender to get in a cross. Sapong draws the attention of two markers towards the back-post, while Casey goes up with goalkeeper Josh Saunders, perhaps fouling him, but definitely preventing him from getting a clean touch on the delivery, allowing Nogueira to arrive late at the top of the box for the finish:
Wenger and Le Toux combined down that left-side to help craft Zach Pfeffer's goal earlier that same match – Eric Ayuk thought he scored it, celebrating with a neat back-flip. Speaking of Ayuk, he brings an extra element of speed and audacity to those wide spots – he would finally get his first MLS goal against Columbus on the weekend, celebrating it in style once more.
The combined effect of all these individual threats is that the Union have the ability to provide service, the bodies to get on the end of that service, the width to spread the play and get space for those deliveries, which in turn opens up gaps within which the likes of Aristeguieta, Pfeffer, Maidana, and Nogueira can operate. No easy task to defend.
Toronto, whose defense has struggled at times this season, will have to reprise the second half performance against Orlando that saw them shutdown large segments of the match should they hope to keep a second-consecutive clean-sheet for the first time this season.
When considering how to beat the Union, the first thing that has to be mentioned is the need to test the keeper. Rais M'bolhi seems to be all but out the door – his flapping at crosses and general uselessness in the air was the soccer equivalent of the Yips, as seized upon by Dom Dwyer.
John McCarthy is not M'bolhi, but he is still a very inexperienced, rookie goalkeeper – he must be tested.
Overall he has done well, but showed some flaws against Columbus, particularly on the Crew's third goal, scored by Justin Meram:
Toronto has to take chances, get those shots on goal, test the keeper – and then, follow up those chances to mop up any spills or messes. It is a constant refrain in these previews, but it must be said – make those runs, get into those positions, and... press.
Philadelphia has in part struggled because Curtin has been unable to field a constant and preferred starting eleven. That inconsistency and a handful of new additions still finding their place in the side, means that their cohesion has suffered.
Should Toronto be able to isolate a ball-carrier or pick off a timely pass when Philadelphia is moving forward, there are benefits to be had. Tesho Akindele did just such a thing to score Dallas' eventual game-winner, capitalizing on Fabinho dawdling on the ball to nick possession off him and steal in on goal alone:
Toronto has the firepower and the pace to cause Philadelphia that same problem. Sebastian Giovinco is the most likely candidate, but an in-form and active Jozy Altidore could do the same, as could Jackson, while a timely Michael Bradley intervention could set up an attacker with a devastating pass.
The Union were absolutely shredded by both Columbus and New England, particularly struggling with quick breaks prompted by devastating passes.
Take Teal Bunbury's game-winner for the Revolution – a bouncing ball won in midfield catches Philadelphia watching as Diego Fagundez rises up to win the touch towards Charlie Davies. Davies, holds off the attentions of Vitoria to get a return ball down the right flank for Fagundez to chase. Meanwhile, Bunbury, spotting Philadelphia on the turn and facing the ball-carrier, gets on his horse to make the near-post run from wide left, crossing inside on Williams to get ball-side and on the end of Fagundez's inch-perfect delivery:
Though Toronto does not have that same devastating width and pace – Jackson added a little of that in Orlando, they are capable of such sweeping moves, and should try to spot those transitions points to catch Philadelphia off guard.
And finally, as can be seen on the Bunbury goal, the Union have desperately struggled to get their marking assignments down pat. Vitoria has been a calming influence, and alongside Edu can be part of a dominant aerial presence, but still Philadelphia has conceded far too many goals from horrendous defensive coverage.
The best example came in that 3-3 draw against Salt Lake, Jamison Olave would get the credit for the final touch – it was an ugly finish that bounced off several players – but what is noteworthy is that three (yes, three) Salt Lake players were unmarked at that back-post, lining up to get the touch on Javier Morales corner kick:
That is some truly awful defending there. And it is not the only example, Adailton breaking free on a corner kick to score the winner for Chicago comes to mind.
Toronto has yet to really take advantage of set-pieces this season – aside from Giovinco's free-kick; Saturday would be as good a time as any to get that started.
As with all MLS teams, Philadelphia is a side with strengths and weaknesses; the winner will be determined by who protects their vulnerabilities and exposes those of their opponent to the higher degree during the ninety minutes.
Points of Interest
Last Meeting: September 3, 2014 Philadelphia 1: Toronto 0
The clubs last met in September of last season, interestingly Greg Vanney's first match in charge following Ryan Nelsen's dismissal. Casey scored the game's only goal in the 55th minute, touching a Le Toux cross past Joe Bendik – of course, it was Maidana who played the initial ball down the wing to spur the chance. Any hopes of a TFC comeback were shattered in the 77th minute when Ashtone Morgan was sent off for hauling down Le Toux, who had broken in behind the Toronto back-line to bear towards goal.
This is the first meeting of three this season. The two will meet again on July 18 and October 3; both are set to be played in Toronto.
In the all-time series, they have met twelve times, with Philadelphia winning six, Toronto two, and drawing the other four. The Union have won the last three meetings and are unbeaten in seven, stretching back to a TFC win in 2012, 1-0 at home on an 88th minute goal from Danny Koevermans.
Toronto has never won in Philadelphia through six attempts, the Union winning the last two, both by 1-0 scorelines. TFC did achieve draws in their travels in 2011 and 2012, both by 1-1 scorelines.
For those who have not seen it, McCarthy's post-match interview after his debut was enthralling.