What: Union vs Toronto FC
When: Saturday, 4:00pm, EST
Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA, USA
Radio: I can do play by play and commentary at the same time. Adam Caan is a Swiss announcer with a respected neutral call, while Adam Kahn is an excitable German with a penchant for stretched metaphor.
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way first. Here is your playoff scenario breakdown, courtesy of MLS:
Philadelphia Union will clinch a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs if:
- they defeat Toronto FC (Oct. 15)
- there is a winner in the Portland-Houston game (Oct. 14) AND
- New York lose to Sporting KC (Oct. 15).
As the scenarios and basic competitive instincts clearly show, the best thing to do on game day is win. Three points and the Union can celebrate a playoff berth in front of the fans who have become a huge part of the club’s nascent legacy (not that there won’t be a stadium full of Union supporters in New York… I mean New Jersey… I mean I-can’t-believe-MLS-is-going-to-put-another-franchise-there-burg).
Many people, PSP included, see Toronto as a trap game. And it could be. But there is a chance that, like against Seattle, outside competitions will come into play. Toronto has a make or break CONCACAF Champions League match against on October 18 against FC Dallas and, frankly, that should mean a lot more to them than a league game against the Union.
Terrible on the road
TFC has been abhorrent on the road this season. Prior to August, their only road win was over FC Edmonton in April. FC Edmonton, of course, is the most famous NASL soccer team in Edmonton formed in 2010. Did I mention that FC Edmonton has radio coverage? Because they do. Ahem. A-hem.
The Canadian side has been shut out in three of their last four road games, and while BMO Field is a fine stadium, it won’t prepare visitors for the volume of 18,000 people who expect to see playoff soccer in a few weeks.
Offensive improvements, defensive inconsitency
Last time these teams played, the Union struck so early that the game was effectively over before Toronto had a chance to lose it. Gabe Farfan no longer lives as high up the field as he did when the Union traveled to Canada, but Michael Farfan’s form means another goal from a twin isn’t so… Far(fan)-fetched.
TFC will likely deploy a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, but it will look quite different than the Union’s own hybrid. Danny Koevermans, whose 0.95 goals/game rate puts him in an elite class of MLS striker (his own class, really), will establish base camp up top while “There is no Nick, only” Soolsma and Ryan Johnson will flank Koevermans but drop into wide midfield positions on defense. A central trio of Frings, de Guzman and Avila will look to plug up the holes that Justin Mapp and the Union found with the regularity of an all-fiber diet on May 28th.
Toronto’s Joao Plata, who gave the Union plenty of trouble last time around, looks to be out injured, although he could make the bench.
The Toronto offense is much improved, especially with Koevermans running the show up top. The defense remains an issue, with injuries and inconsistency as major problems. The duo of Harden and Iro in the middle have all the mutual understanding of Marquez and Ream, but without the hype. It is very important that the Union get numbers forward. As a post in PSP showed earlier this week, the Union have a strong pass completion percentage in the final third. Now they just need to increase the amount of time they spent in that third of the field.
Will Mondragon start?
Expect to see the same lineup the Union used against Seattle. While it would be nice to get Torres and Mwanga some minutes, the most likely entrant to the starting eleven might be Zach Pfeffer. The young midfielder was a catalyst for the Union’s late season revival and in a winnable home match he could get the nod.
Faryd Mondragon was upgraded to questionable in Tuesday’s injury report and the Daily News reported Friday that, “Barring a change of heart from the technical staff, Mondragon will return to the Union’s starting lineup.” For himself, Mondragon said, “I feel really, really good, and it’s going to feel fantastic [to be back on the pitch], especially to be back at home in the last home game.” If there is a change of heart before Saturday’s game, MacMath will disregard his ankle sprain, just like he did against Seattle. Still, if Mondragon is going to be the playoff starter, he needs to get time in the net before the playoffs begin. Who would have thought five weeks ago that there could even be the possibility of a hint of debate about which Union goalkeeper should get the starting spot heading into the final two games of the regular season? Welcome back to the Dragon.
Danny Califf is also listed as questionable with a shoulder sprain, but good luck keeping him out of the lineup. Outside of Califf and his partner Valdes, Garfan and Williams need to get up the pitch to pin back Soolsa and Johnson. The Toronto center mids are crafty but lack speed and defensive shape. If Philly can get behind the wingers they should be able to possess in the final third and create chances.
Ultimately, this match cannot in itself secure first place for the Union. But does anyone care? Who suggested the Union would be in the playoffs before this season? A win over Toronto and the dream we dared not dream becomes a reality.
The Dragon, Sheanomenon, El Kaiser, Bearfight, Garfan, Marfan, Mapptastic, Linguine, Aduit, Pauno, Le Touch
Frei, Iro, Harden, Viator, Morgan, Frings, Avila, de Guzman, Soolsma, Johnson, Koevermans
(As of October 11)
OUT: GK Thorne Holder (concussion); FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); DOUBTFUL: DF Joe Tait (R ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Faryd Mondragon (R finger fracture); DF Danny Califf (L shoulder sprain); PROBABLE: GK Zac MacMath (L ankle sprain); MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R calf strain) ..
OUT: MF Elbekay Bouchiba (R knee surgery recovery); DF Adrian Cann (R knee surgery recovery); DF Dicoy Williams (R knee surgery recovery); QUESTIONABLE: DF Demitrius Omphroy (R knee swelling); MF Joao Plata (L hamstring strain); MF Oscar Cordon (R hip flexor); PROBABLE: FW Danny Koevermans (R knee contusion)
Suspended next yellow