Let’s take a look at both clubs heading into the nationally televised matchup (7:00pm, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes).
The Competition – Toronto FC
At 0-2, Toronto FC is off to a disappointing start to the season. After Dwayne De Rosario’s goal gave Toronto a lead in the 28th minute last weekend, New England Revolution rookie Zack Schilawski terrorized the Canadian club, netting a hat trick in a span of just over ten minutes to lead the Revs to a 4-1 victory.
Facing a 1-6 goal differential through two games, Toronto is eager to play their Home Opener in front of some of the best fans in MLS. Toronto has sold out every game in its three year existence, but Thursday’s game will be extra special. For the first time, an MLS match will be played on real grass at BMO Field, a change welcomed by fans and players alike. An 0-3 record would put TFC in an early hole, so the Reds will come out hungry and eager to put on a show for their supporters.
Goalkeeper – Philadelphia Union
Chris Seitz’s home debut wasn’t his best performance, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as many think. The play that really sticks out in people’s minds should have actually been whistled dead and the first goal deflected off of defender Michael Orozco, making it nearly impossible to stop. Regardless though, Seitz knows he can be better. He’ll look to step up with a big performance to convince Manager Peter Nowak that he should stick as the starter. The tools are all there and it’s only a matter of time before Seitz gains the experience necessary to live up to his enormous potential.
Goalkeeper – Toronto FC
Stefan Frei had a day to forget against New England, but he was let down by his defense more than anything. He probably could’ve been more aggressive on New England’s first goal, but aside from that didn’t make any glaring errors that led to goals. The 13th overall pick in the 2009 SuperDraft, Frei is undoubtedly one of the more talented young goalkeepers in the League with a knack for making the tough save, as evidenced by winning MLS Save of the Week four times in 2009. Toronto’s netminder can only hope the attacking prowess of midfielders Fred and Roger Torres and strikers Sebastien Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno will be contained by a struggling defensive backline.
Defense – Philadelphia Union
Nowak just may have found his starting backline against D.C. Other than a poor clearance that led to Santino Quaranta’s goal, the Union’s defense was rock solid in the opener. Danny Califf was a formidable presence, organizing his teammates and clearing everything that came his way. Califf was complemented well by Orozco, who was back in his normal position after Nowak used him in the midfield during the match against Seattle. The central defensive pairing will look to lock down Chad Barrett, who has returned to the pitch following offseason foot surgery, O’Brian White and especially Dwayne De Rosario, Toronto’s unquestioned star.
Jordan Harvey has been very dependable at left fullback in the club’s first two games, playing all 180 minutes and making no mistakes of consequence. After starting 29 games for Colorado last year, Harvey looks to be a fixture in Nowak’s lineup as well. He’ll also see De Rosario coming at him fairly regularly over the course of the game and will need to hold his ground to neutralize Toronto’s most dangerous player.
At right fullback, expect to see recent signee Cristian Arrieta in the starting XI again. Not only did the 2009 USL MVP stifle D.C., but his clearance under pressure to Alejandro Moreno led to the Union’s second goal. If he can keep it up, and his track record suggests he will, that type of two-way play will earn Arrieta a permanent starting spot.
Defense – Toronto FC
Toronto’s backline needs to be better for the club to compete for a playoff spot this season. Following the retirement of former Captain Jim Brennan after week 1, Toronto was left looking for answers and didn’t find any last week.
Nana Attakora boasts the most potential of any Toronto back and he’ll have to take charge in the middle of the field for the defense to turn its fortunes around. Likely joining Attakora and drawing another start at centerback is Nick Garcia, but he was burned repeatedly against New England. A similar performance against the Union could earn Garcia a seat on the bench for the club’s next match against Colorado.
Former Rapids defender Dan Gargan started at right back last game, while newly signed Latvian left back Raivis Hscanovics stepped in for Brennan on the left. Hscanovics’ debut was less than stellar though, and the Canadian international will have to be better to justify Mo Johnston and Head Coach Preki’s decision to bring him out of retirement.
Midfield – Philadelphia Union
The Union’s midfield really clicked against D.C., with Stefani Miglioranzi and Andrew Jacobson’s ball-winning complementing the creative, attacking style of Fred and Roger Torres. There was no questioning Fred’s impact after returning from a suspension that held him out in Seattle. The foursome should have another chance to improve their chemistry even further, although winger Shea Salinas will push for more playing time now that he’s closer to full health following a left squad strain. Salinas came on for Torres in the 68th minute last Saturday, which could very well be the role we see him in again on Thursday.
One X-factor is #1 overall draft pick Danny Mwanga, who came out of Oregon State as a striker but has been listed as a midfielder for the first two games. After not seeing the field against United, Nowak will likely try to find a way to get him some playing time in order to help him build confidence.
The key to winning the midfield battle against Toronto goes back to Fred and Torres though, both of whom will need to control possession and service forwards Sebastien Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno for the Union’s attack to be effective. If they can do that, it’ll be a long match for Toronto’s backline.
Midfield – Toronto FC
Whether playing in an attacking midfield role like he did in Toronto’s last game or as a striker like he did in the season opener, the Reds’ most dangerous player by far is Dwayne De Rosario. With 11 goals and 6 assists last season, De Rosario is both lethal and versatile. Miglioranzi and Jacobson will have to confront him in the midfield and the defense will have to be aware of where he is at all times. If Philadelphia can shut down De Rosario, Toronto’s offense will have a hard time breaking through.
In order to pick up their attacking productivity, TFC will need to see a more assertive effort from Julian de Guzman, who has yet to tally a point in seven games since joining the club as its Designated Player late last season. Relegated to the bench in week 2, de Guzman needs to prove he’s worth Toronto’s hefty investment in a hurry to avoid being labeled a “flop”.
Attack – Philadelphia Union
There’s virtually no chance we see a change in the Union’s starting lineup up top, as both Le Toux and Moreno were in terrific form on Saturday. Le Toux’s hat track earned him MLS Player of the Week honors, and Alejandro Moreno directly contributed to all three goals, drawing the red card that led to the game winner and notching two assists, including a brilliant counter-attacking pass on Le Toux's second goal. The two will look to take out Toronto’s crowd early and continue developing the chemistry that was on display throughout the Home Opener.
17-year-old Jack McInerney has come on off the bench the last two games and has shown promise as a late spark. When he gets some experience under his belt, watch out. His skills, nose for the goal and composure at a ripe age make him one to watch this season and for years to come.
Don’t forget about Mwanga here too. Coming off the bench at his natural position could be just what the doctor ordered for the youngster.
Attack – Toronto FC
The return of Chad Barrett should provide a boost to a side that has only scored once in two games. Despite a mediocre 2009 campaign with only 5 goals, Barrett is a tenacious worker who has had bigger seasons in the past, as recently as 2008 when he scored nine times. Califf should be up to the task physically, but expect a battle in the Union’s area.
Barrett may come off the bench, however, as he eases his way back to health. If he does, expect 2009 #4 overall pick O'Brian White to get the nod, as he has in Toronto’s first two matches. White’s talent isn’t in question, as the Jamaican won the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy as the NCAA’s most valuable player in 2007. Scoring two goals in nine appearances last year, White will look to live up to his potential in 2010, beginning with Thursday’s match.
As mentioned previously, De Rosario may play up top like he did in game 2, but he’ll factor heavily into the attack regardless of his listed position.
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
DF Danny Califf (Right Ankle Sprain)
MF Toni Stahl (Right Knee Contusion)
MF Shea Salinas (Left Quad Strain)
FW Danny Mwanga (Left Calf Strain)
Date: Thursday, April 15, 2010
Location: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario (20,148, 68m x 105m)
National TV: ESPN2/ESPN Deportes