Scouting Report: Union head across the border to face winless TFC
Major League Soccer's worst team will be playing in CONCACAF Champions League soccer this year.
Sounds crazy, but it's true.
Toronto FC, who hold a 0-9-0 record in league play, won their fourth Canadian Championship on Wednesday night. Aron Winter's club has yet to win a game in MLS play, but their 1-0 shutout against Vancouver on Wednesday night added another Voyageurs Cup to the trophy case.
Saturday's matchup pits Toronto against Philadelphia, two sides looking to overcome slow starts to the season. TFC are looking to avoid an unprecedented 10-game losing streak in MLS.
The Union are 2-1-1 all time against TFC. Last season, Philadelphia thumped Toronto 6-2 at BMO Field, the most goals scored by the Union in a single game. A rehauled and revamped TFC side earned a 1-1 draw at PPL Park in October. That draw clinched Philadelphia's first-ever playoff spot.
Toronto, a semifinalist in last year's Champions League, looked to have turned the corner in 2011 with the additions of DP Danny Koevermans and Jamaica international Ryan Johnson.
Koevermans only recently returned from a groin injury that kept him out for the early part of the season. The Dutchman has played about half of Toronto's total minutes this year and only has two goals.
Johnson, meanwhile, has played every single minute this year, with only one goal to his name. That's really been the theme for Toronto this year: missed opportunities. Johnson leads the team with 28 shots, and scored twice in the Canadian Championship tournament, but has squandered numerous chances in league play.
Reggie Lambe is the only other forward to find the net. The 21-year-old Bermudian has two goals in league play and scored against Vancouver and Montreal in the Canadian Championship. He's a quick youngster with plenty of raw talent and upside.
Joao Plata and Nick Soolsma are the other forward pieces who can fit into Winter's preferred 4-3-3 formation. Plata can play on the left side of the formation while Soolsma typically plays on the right. If Koevermans plays "point man" in the 4-4-3, Johnson would push out wide.
Torsten Frings has been playing in his more typical midfield role recently. Winter had previously used the German DP as a "sweeper" of sorts, dropping behind the center backs in a unique defensive shape. On Wednesday night, Frings played centrally in the 4-3-3 midfield, with Julian de Guzman on his right and Eric Avila on his left.
The only change from last Saturday's 3-1 loss at DC was the addition of Terry Dunfield in midfield. With Frings out, De Guzman played in the middle with Dunfield on the right.
The backline has not changed over the last two games. Ashtone Morgan and Jeremy Hall played left and right back, respectively. Doneil Henry paired Adrian Cann in central defense. Richard Eckersley is another good option at fullback.
It's been a rotating door in front of goalkeeper Milos Kosic this year. First choice CB Miguel Aceval is listed as doubtful with a quad strain. Logan Emory is unavailable with a shoulder injury. Dicoy Williams is questionable.
Toronto are tied for last place in the league with 21 goals conceded. They've played to a minus-14 goal differential in nine games.
Keys to the Game
Toronto may be 0-9-0, but it's not for a lack of talent. Koevermans scored eight goals in just 10 appearances in 2011. Johnson always creates opportunities. Plata and Lambe have speed up top. Frings is still a very solid player in the middle.
For whatever reason, they just haven't been able to score goals, or play a comprehensive 90-minute game. You would think that Wednesday night's win against Vancouver would jumpstart a team that has been visibly deflated and psychologically damaged. There's plenty of soccer left to play in 2012.
The gameplan is simple for Philadelphia: go after Toronto's defense. Scoring that first goal against a demoralized team can set the tone for the rest of the game. Cann missed most of last year with an ACL injury and only recently returned to action. Henry is not a first-choice CB and only has two starts this season.
The midfield battle changes depending on the availability of Gabriel Gomez (questionable, L quad contusion). The 4-3-3 is an attacking formation and if the Union can overload the middle, Plata and Lambe will be forced to track back and defend. Frings and de Guzman will shield the backline and look to get the ball to wide spaces where Lambe and Johnson like to operate.
While road contests are never easy in MLS, Saturday's match sets up as a winnable three points for Philadelphia.
Preview: Union at Toronto FC