Game time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: 6abc, MyNetwork TV
A much-improved Toronto FC pays a visit to PPL Park this Saturday to face Philadelphia Union, marking the second time the Union have played a team twice this year. The two played in Toronto on April 15, when the Union lost 2-1 in a game made famous by Danny Califf debuting the PPL’s Elbow on Julian De Guzman.
The personnel have changed on these teams, however, as new coaches have begun to work new players into their system. Toronto (6-4-4) is playing the best soccer in the history of its franchise and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference, on an eight-game unbeaten streak during which they’ve given up only three goals. The Union (3-8-2) are playing competitively every match but haven’t yet found a way to grind out wins in close matches. They defeated Scottish giant Celtic in a friendly on Wednesday, but neither team was at full strength.
With the summer transfer window now open, trialist Eduardo Coudet could be the first new addition for the Union if he signs after playing in Wednesday’s friendly, and with regulars Shea Salinas, Alejandro Moreno and Roger Torres all injured, he could start. For Toronto, new signing and former Valencia star Mista could make his debut for the team.
Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz
Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Cristian Arrieta, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal
Midfielders: Andrew Jacobson, Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Sebastien Le Toux
Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney
Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei
Defenders: Nick Garcia, Adrian Cann, Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan
Midfielders: Nick LaBrocca, Julian de Guzman, Amadou Sanyang, Fuad Ibrahim
Forwards: Dwayne De Rosario, Chad Barrett
Injuries and suspensions
Philadelphia: OUT: FW Alejandro Moreno (R knee contusion); MF Shea Salinas (L ankle contusion). QUESTIONABLE: MF Kyle Nakazawa (R knee sprain). PROBABLE: GK Brad Knighton (shin splints). Roger Torres is not listed on the injury report but was injured Wednesday and photographed on crutches after the game, so he likely will not play.
Toronto: OUT: DF Emmanuel Gomez (Right Knee Osteochondral Injury); QUESTIONABLE: MF Nane Joseph (Separated Right Shoulder); PROBABLE MF Dwayne De Rosario (Left Adductor Tightness); DF Ty Harden (Laceration of the Right Leg).
Philadelphia defense vs. Toronto attackers
Dwayne De Rosario is one of MLS’s best players, and he’s showing it again this year, scoring eight goals in 13 matches for his hometown team. The natural attacking midfielder is playing more up top than ever this year, and so far, it’s working. He scored two goals against the Union in their first match. Chad Barrett will join him, with four goals on the year, but don’t forget how O’Brian White smoked the Union defenders (notably the since-departed Shavar Thomas) in their first meeting.
The Union continue to shift their back line around, with Cristian Arrieta and Michael Orozco exchanging the right fullback and left center back positions. Arrieta has struggled at times, but he can also show why the Union signed him, like he did with a terrific performance Wednesday against Celtic. Danny Califf and Jordan Harvey steady, consistent locks in their positions, while we’re still figuring out where it is that Orozco belongs on the field. (But he definitely belongs.) The Union remain the league’s only team without a clean sheet in the regular season, but goalkeeper Chris Seitz has been playing well lately.
Philadelphia midfield vs. Toronto midfield
Julian de Guzman was a holding midfielder in Europe but was asked early this year to be more of a playmaker. It’s not clearly not his natural tendency yet, but he’s very quick on the ball and must be watched. Two teenagers and a Philadelphian will likely join him in the midfield. Gambian midfielder Amadou Sanyang has drawn attention from Ligue 1 clubs in France as well as Dutch power PSV Eindhoven, while fellow 18-year-old Fuad Ibrahim, an Ethiopian citizen who grew up in Minnesota, is just starting to see regular playing time. Rutgers alum Nick LaBrocca came over in a trade for Marvell Wynne just before the season started and has since nailed down the left wing slot in the 4-3-1-2 formation.
The Union will likely be without two regular midfield contributors, Shea Salinas and Roger Torres, both of whom are injured. Also, Sebastien Le Toux could slide up to forward because of an injury to Alejandro Moreno. Trialist Eduardo Coudet could be signed in time to get the start, and considering the injury problems, the timing seems appropriate. He looked good against Celtic. So did Andrew Jacobson, and the injuries could pave way for him to start. Stefani Miglioranzi remains the cog at defensive midfield, while Fred will find his way onto the field somewhere, whether it be on the wing or in the center. The Union midfield looks alternately like a 4-1-3-2, 4-2-2-2, or 4-3-1-2, usually depending on the personnel. Normally they’d get the edge over a young Toronto midfield, but injuries and chemistry can’t be ignored.
Philadelphia forwards vs. Toronto defense
Toronto’s defense looked horrid earlier this year, but new signings and a growing familiarity with their defensive-minded coach’s system have improved things. Center back Adrian Cann has been the key improvement. Philadelphia native Dan Gargan has been starting regularly and played well in the first match against the Union, finally getting a chance at the highest level of American play after returning from an abrupt and premature retirement in 2008. Nana Attakora, just 21 years old, is looking better at center back, while Nick Garcia is probably the weak link at left back. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei is a monster in goal, and he’s still just 24 years old.
Striker Danny Mwanga has been on fire for the Union. The teenager’s finishing has proven excellent, though he hasn’t yet shown an ability to free himself up off the dribble. Alejandro Moreno is injured and out for the game, and his hold-up play will be missed. That means Le Toux will either slide up to forward or “Union Jack” McInerney will get the start. If so, you could see four teenagers starting for the two sides.
Individual match-up to watch
Danny Mwanga vs. Adrian Cann
When Mwanga gets the ball in position to score, he scores. Simple as that. Cann’s task is to prevent that. If he can cut off the passing lanes and force Mwanga to get the ball further from goal, Mwanga hasn’t shown yet that he can do much with it creatively off the dribble.
Union win 2-1. Home field advantage is huge, and Peter Nowak is too good a coach to let these guys forget that they’ve given up weak goals at the end of a half three times in recent weeks. Toronto’s defense has been stellar lately, but the Union play to score, not just to avoid losing.
(Photo: Paul Rudderow)