With the first game of 2017 out of the way, Toronto FC’s players are now beginning to ease back into form. Last weekend’s scoreless draw at Real Salt Lake had plenty of positives, but also left the Reds with a fair few things to work on.
This Saturday, they head to Talen Energy Stadium to play the Philadelphia Union just over four months after knocking them out of the playoffs. Philadelphia’s been a tough place to play for TFC over the past few years, with the Reds holding a 2–4–2 record in road games against them.
The altitude in Utah may have caused problems for TFC last weekend and although that will not be an issue in Philadelphia, external conditions may factor in once again. Current weather forecasts peg the temperature at around −1° C, which is nothing new for Toronto after that playoff run but still an element to consider.
Neither team has scored a goal in MLS yet this year, with Philadelphia also drawing 0-0 last weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Scouting the opponent
Last season, the Union were arguably the worst MLS side to make the playoffs, stumbling into the sixth and final spot with 42 points. They didn’t trouble TFC too much in the knockout round, but in case you forgot:
Philadelphia are not poised to be a major contender this season. That said, they certainly pose a threat to Toronto. As it seems many teams will do this season, they may well bunker and try to catch them on the counter.
The Union lineup features several players who could certainly challenge TFC’s back line. Over on the left side, Chris Pontius scored 12 goals last season and will be a threat along the wing. Typically opting for a lone striker, new acquisition Jay Simpson is likely to feature there again.
Philadelphia also have talent in defence. Right back Keegan Rosenberry was a Rookie-of-the-Year finalist in 2016, and just about salvaged a point for his team last weekend against Vancouver with a stop on the goal line. That said, he does tend to get caught up in attack, which can leave new centre-back Oguchi Onyewu exposed.
Finally, the Union have one last ace in the hole in the form of goalkeeper Andre Blake. Arguably the best keeper in MLS, it’d be hard for TFC to be confident in any shot they get on him.
Toronto FC lineup notes
With usual right-wing-back Steven Beitashour a doubt with a possible concussion this weekend, that side of the pitch could be where Philadelphia look to route their attacks. Against Pontius, especially, the flank could be a weak spot for the Reds.
Greg Vanney has several options for replacing Beitashour on Saturday, none of which are ideal. In training earlier this week, Tsubasa Endoh was lining up in that position in scrimmages. Endoh is more attack-minded than Beitashour, though, and has far less defensive experience.
Marky Delgado is perhaps another option, having played over on that side before. He also has game experience this season, coming on in the second half of last weekend’s RSL game.
Were Ashtone Morgan fit, Vanney may have considered moving Justin Morrow over to the right. We could even see Armando Cooper moved over to the side, although that too is unlikely with Victor Vazquez perhaps not yet fit for a full 90 minutes.
It’s probably too early in the year to be changing up the 3-5-2 formation, and switching to a back four doesn’t really solve the dilemma anyway. TFC will need to hope that whoever plays on that side can cope with some help from Eriq Zavaleta.
Chris Mavinga is also in contention to make his debut on Saturday having returned from France after the birth of his child. Like Endoh, he has been in the first team on the training ground and could replace Nick Hagglund as the left-sided member of TFC’s back three.
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: TFC are at a point where every game should be considered winnable, home or away. This one is no different, especially against a team that may struggle to make the playoffs this year.
It’s early, but hopefully Sebastian Giovinco begins to find his form. He was a little unlucky last week with a saved penalty, but changing up some of his usual methods may help him become a more unpredictable force in this league.
If TFC’s offence clicks, which it should, then the Reds will win this game. There are definitely ways for Philadelphia to shut them down, but Toronto fans would be fairly disappointed with anything but a win here.
Projected starting XI:
Philadelphia (4-2-3-1): Blake; Rosenberry, Onyewu, Marquez, Fabinho; Medunjanin, Jones; Herbers, Bedoya, Pontius; Simpson.