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Match Preview: Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union battle for position atop the East

Toronto FC look to leapfrog the Philadephia Union in the race for the Supporters’ Shield

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC
Toronto FC look to extend their win streak to three games against Philadelphia.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO, Ont.—Toronto FC will begin the final phase of a stop-and-start 2020 regular season on Saturday as they welcome the Philadephia Union to their adopted home in East Hartford. Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST.

With nine games left, it’s now the business end of the MLS regular season. With all remaining games against Eastern Conference opponents, the chance to secure the East is there for the taking. How much home-field advantage will matter in this year’s playoffs is up for debate, but none-the-less finishing on a high will be a great confidence boost for this Toronto squad heading into the playoffs.

Against Columbus, it was a tale of two halves. It was a completely different TFC team that showed up in the second half last week to put the league leaders, Columbus Crew, away. Richie Laryea was a big reason for how the Toronto offence produced goals, including his incredible solo goal when he added TFC’s third of the night. Prior to that Laryea provided the assist for Alejandro Pozuelo’s game-winning goal. Coming off of his Team of the Week performance, it should be no surprise when Greg Vanney picks Laryea to control the right flank for TFC once again.

In midfield, Alejandro Pozuelo continues to be the player TFC needs him to be. After another stunning display against Columbus where the Spaniard picked up another goal and assist, Pozuelo has now scored four times in the Reds’ last five outings, and in three games in a row. His contribution earned him the MLS Player of the Month award in September.

It can’t be understated how important Pozuelo is to TFC’s attack. With Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola now fit, and Vanney having opted to play both strikers together in TFC’s last two games, having more familiarity will only mean a much more cohesive offence as we saw in the second half last week.

The need for familiarity will need to be balanced with the right rotation in this final phase, however. Over the course of the next two weeks, Toronto is scheduled to play every three or four days. We’ve seen this Toronto squad struggle when Vanney has had to call on his depth players. With the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield race being as tight as it is, there will be little room for error over the next couple of weeks. How Vanney manages that, and how healthy TFC come away from this period may determine how far the Reds can go this year.

Just as last week, Greg Vanney will need to prepare his team for another in-form squad. Philadelphia, who are currently ahead of Toronto on goal difference, are unbeaten in their last four games (4-1-0).

The Union and TFC have near identical records. Both teams boast an 8-2-4 record this season and have scored 24 goals apiece. Philadelphia has been marginally better behind the ball, giving up just 11 goals to TFC’s 15.

But that’s where the similarities end. The Union will happy to cede possession to the Reds, but will be looking to hit them on the counter-attack at every opportunity they get so TFC’s transition game will need to be extremely effective, breaking up the Union’s attacks.

Additional Notes

  • Last week’s stellar performances from Larayea and Vanney, earned both a spot on the MLS Team of the week!
  • Pozuelo’s great September not only earned him the MLS Player of the Month but is making a great case to be MLS MVP. Pozuelo has scored six goals this year and leads the league in assists with nine.
  • A win for the Reds would give them the advantage over the Union and propel them into second, but if results go TFC’s way, the Reds could end the weekend sitting atop the Eastern Conference.