What: Philadelphia Union v
Sebastien Le Toux Vancouver Whitecaps
When: 4pm EST
Where: PPL Park
Have you heard the news? The Vancouver Whitecaps are coming to town, and once again their top striker is a tough Frenchman. Only this time the Frenchman isn’t a cheap-shotting faux superstar who probably added an H at the front of his name so it wouldn’t be so obvious that his name is pronounced “ass-lee” (or, according to the game notes, “AH-slee”. Riiiight.)
No, incredible as it is, there are two tough Frenchmen around. And with Eric Hassli sidelined, Sebastien Le Toux will bring his hard-working style back to PPL Park as the offensive centerpiece of the undefeated Whitecaps.
A story of threes
The Union are 0-3. And there is no getting around the fact that, looking back over the first month of the season, the best the team deserved was a pair of ties. Three points at home against a quality side would be a huge spark for this downtrodden bunch.
This is the third year for Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney. Jack Mac still has plenty of time to grow and develop, but the other two should be approaching the point where they begin to swipe regular minutes from the vets on the squad. Mwanga has gotten a half-chance this season, but a clear lack of confidence and Tebow-level service have limited his contributions.
At the U-23 level, Okugo has shown a good ability to manage a game but remains reticent to impose himself on it. Big, fast midfielders with good defensive instincts are a rare commodity; young players who are afraid to make mistakes are a dime a dozen. With the Olympic dream behind him and his club team in dire straits, Okugo needs to step up and show that he isn’t afraid to go out on a limb, join the attack, drive an early shoulder into a creator like Davide Chiumiento, and generally make the middle of the field the O-zone Layer: Where the opposition’s dangerous attacks are filtered out.
Three is also the number of goals scored by the much-ballyhooed Vancouver offense. They have scored once in 180 minutes against non-expansion teams, and twice in the 266 minutes since a nervous Montreal squad coughed up an early opener. Luckily the defense has been doing its late season Bryzgalov impression, tossing three consecutive shutouts. The Whitecaps will be without standout defender Alain Rochat, whose left-footed blast was the game winner when these teams met in Vancouver last season.
Stepping in for Rochat will be Jordan Harvey wearing, you guessed it, number three. The former Union man has much love for Philadelphia and it will be nice to see him on the pitch, especially because it means Rochat won’t be there.
Finally, this is the third match between these clubs, with the head-to-head record even at 1-1-0. Last season the Union probably felt they should have taken both from the sorry Whitecaps; now the roles are reversed.
The Union are likely to abandon the failed experiment that was three in the back. It was a case of tactics by necessity, and that is rarely a good thing. Furthermore, the Union’s system failed to adhere to many of the common rules of a three-back set.
Carlos Valdes played the central position but continued to mark the center striker (bad). Porfirio Lopez often played in some amorphous half-fullback-half-centerback role that closed down a channel nobody wanted to run through in the first place, and Chris Albright played well off the second striker against Chicago, which meant the playmaking midfielder always had an outlet.
Basically, it was a three man back line playing like a four man back line with a ghost-player at right back. Didn’t anybody tell you about the ghost player, Chicago? You’re supposed to give up the ball when GhostSheanon tackles you!
Three plus one in the back
Tomorrow should see a return to four backs. Lopez/Garfan, Califf, Valdes and Williams are the right answer to Vancouver’s attack, which seeks to stretch a defense and create gaps between the backs and midfield. The Whitecaps want to get their outside backs involved, but not necessarily in the final third. They want the defense to over-commit to one side so they can switch the play and push the ball between levels on the dribble, which means finding space for a striker (Le Toux, Camilo, Tan (?)) to isolate defenders, create havoc, and put the ball into a dangerous area.
Vancouver will be without Hassli and number two overall draft pick Darren Mattocks Saturday, but that won’t change the game plan one iota. You might say carrying 473 strikers is paying off for the Whitecaps, and they can bring in Long Tan, Atiba Harris or former number one pick Omar Salgado to join Le Toux and Camilo in attack. The strikers will pressure the Union and try to keep the fullbacks from becoming offensively influential (note to Porfirio Lopez: Please don’t even try to go forward. Just stay at home, play strong defense, restore everyone’s confidence).
Respect the ball
The Union response has to be midfield possession and good, well-practiced spacing. If Pajoy and Mwanga are hanging out in the middle third, Vancouver won’t need to call a striker back to close down space, the number of men in navy and gold in the same area will do it for them. By any and all measures Philadelphia has done an awful job of building sustained attacks through the first 270 minutes of the season, which means the team isn’t shaping up well when they have the ball.
Triangles on the edges, runners when the ball is in the middle, and a healthy respect for the ball – that means when you have it you’d rather get a Flaming Knee of Demerit between your nethercheeks than give it away – must be hallmarks of the Union offense in Saturday’s match. Anything less will be an indication that off-the-pitch shenanigans and on-field troubles are merging into a freaky-large muckety-muck that will pit fan against club in an ugly scene that even the harshest Peter Nowak critic doesn’t want to see.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Valdes, Califf (c), Garfan
- MID: Marfan, Okugo, Gomez, Neon
- FWD: Mwanga, McInerney
- GK: Joe “The” Cannon
- DEF: Y “P” Lee, Martin “Hello” Bonjour, Jay “Boy Scout” Demerit, Jordan “All The Time” Harvey
- MID: Matt “Who?” Watson, Jun Marquez “Jun Marquez” Davidson, Davide “Really? David-ay?” Chiumiento,
- FWD: Camilo ” ” Camilo, Sebastien “Le Tooooooooooux” Le Toux, Long “Short” Tan
- OUT: Witkowski (concussion)
- PROBABLE: Albright (groin)
- OUT: Barbara (groin), Mattocks (shoulder burn), Nanchoff (heel), Rochat (knee)
- QUESTIONABLE: Sylvestre (knee),
- PROBABLE: Camilo (quad)