What to expect from a much different Toronto FC side this Saturday at PPL Park
At this point last season, Toronto FC did not have a single win or a single draw. The club was in the midst of its now-famous 0-9-0 start and finished dead last in MLS with a 5-21-8 record and just 23 points.
It's a different story in 2013 with major changes both on and off the field.
Longtime D.C. United executive Kevin Payne is the team's new president and general manager. Payne sacked stand-in manager Paul Mariner and hired 35 year old former D.C. defender Ryan Nelsen. He's tasked with turning around a club that has not made the playoffs since joining Major League Soccer in 2007.
Through five games, Toronto is 1-2-2, with a great home win against Sporting KC and home draws vs. Los Angeles and FC Dallas. The defense is certainly improved and has been Nelsen's focal point in the rebuilding process.
Philadelphia is 3-2-2 all time against Toronto, including a 2-0-1 record at PPL Park.
Striker Robert Earnshaw is tied for second place in MLS with four goals this season. Signed this past winter, the 32-year-old Welshman had significant stints with UK clubs Cardiff City, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, and Nottingham Forest. Maybe his best traits are his ability to punish mistakes, pounce on bad passes, and show up in the right spots at the right time.
The rest of the TFC strike corps is a work in progress. Hogan Ephraim, who plays as a withdrawn forward behind Earnshaw, is on loan from Nelsen's most recent team, Queens Park Rangers. Former Chivas USA forward Justin Braun came off the bench to score late against Dallas last week. Andrew Wiedeman and Emery Welshman provide some youthful depth while DP striker Danny Koevermans remains on the shelf following ACL surgery.
There's some good talent in the midfield, with M/F hybrid Luis Silva looking to build upon a rookie season in which he scored five goals and added five assists in 30 total games. He's only seen 63 minutes this season because of injury, but certainly has the skill and vision to jumpstart the Toronto offense.
Reggie Lambe and John Bostock are solid wide players. Lambe is one of the few holdovers from last season's squad. The 21-year-old Bostock is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, plays wide right, and seems to have a lot of raw ability and upside.
Centrally, Jonathan Osorio holds the keys to the car. He's just 20 years old, but came up through the Toronto academy, got invited to play with the first team, and earned a starting spot. For the time being, he's been paired with converted fullback Jeremy Hall.
Veteran Terry Dunfield and rookie Kyle Bekker are also in the midfield mix, with the former currently dealing with a knee problem. Both are Canadian internationals, with Bekker earning his first caps just a few months ago.
Most notable is the Philadelphia return of former Union captain Danny Califf. It will be his first game against Philly since he was originally traded to Chivas USA last Spring.
Califf missed last week's game due to illness but should return to pair Darren O'Dea in central defense. It's a solid combination, the cornerstone of Nelsen's plan to rebuild his team from back to front.
Former U.S. youth international Gale Agbossoumonde earned his first start last week in Califf's absence. He's just 21-years-old, six foot two and 195 pounds, with a bright future ahead of him.
The shoring up of the central defense allows Richard Eckersley to move back to his natural fullback spot. He's more of a right back, but played on the left against Dallas last week. He's been held out of practice this week with a hamstring issue, so it's unclear whether he'll play at PPL Park. Former Norwich City man Darel Russell, who was criticized after his first start, returned to the right back spot last week and scored a a ridiculous goal to salvage a home point for his club. Ashtone Morgan is a good left back option and former Union fullback Ryan Richter provides cover on the right side.
Former Portland Timber Joe Bendik is playing well as Toronto's goalkeeper. Preason number one and longtime red Stefan Frei can't seem to catch a break and remains out due to injury.
Possible Starting XI: Bendik (GK), Morgan, Califf, O'Dea, Russell, Lambe, Osorio, Hall, Bostock, Ephraim, Earnshaw
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org