When the Philadelphia Union (3-8-2) return to MLS action this Saturday at 3:30pm against Toronto FC (6-4-4), the expansion side will be singularly focused on gaining ground in the standings after missing an opportunity to do so last week against San Jose.
Manager Peter Nowak’s squad has been playing an exciting brand of attacking soccer, especially at PPL Park, with San Jose being the only setback at home for the Union so far this year. A mid-week 1-0 win in a friendly against Celtic FC can only help the club’s mentality heading into this weekend’s clash, but the visitors come in hot with an eight match unbeaten streak.
Toronto has been incredibly stingy of late, giving up a grand total of two goals in their last seven league matches. They’ve only scored six goals in the same time frame, but the Reds’ recent run of form has them firmly planted in third place in the Eastern Conference.
In the last meeting between the two clubs, Philadelphia thoroughly outplayed TFC in the first half at BMO Field, but a first half red card ultimately led to the Union’s undoing. Jordan Harvey’s equalizer provided hope for a road point, but Dwayne De Rosario’s second goal of the match in the 81st minute was the difference.
Both clubs come into the match at less than full strength, with the Union likely missing Roger Torres (questionable with a right ankle sprain suffered against Celtic) and Shea Salinas ruled out with a left fibula stress fracture. Alejandro Moreno is expected to give it a go as he did against San Jose, but the veteran didn't appear to be 100% a week ago and may not be again. Moreno's ability to hold the ball in Toronto's territory and wear down the defense will be key, and the closer to full strength he is, the more he'll be able to do so effectively.
Toronto won’t have the services of forward O’Brian White or midfielder Martin Saric, but may receive a boost from recently signed Designated Player Mista. Toronto Head Coach Preki has stated that while he doesn’t expect the Spanish striker to start, he could see plenty of minutes for the first time in a TFC kit. While trialist Eduardo Caudet started in the Union’s friendly against Celtic, the midfielder hasn’t been added to the club’s roster as of Friday.
With Philadelphia eager to snatch full points in front of their rabid hometown fans, let’s take a look at some of the matchups we’ll see at PPL Park.
Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga vs Toronto’s defense and Stefan Frei
With Moreno returning to complete health, the majority of the offensive burden on Saturday will fall on strikers Le Toux and Mwanga against a defensive unit that has been as good as any in MLS recently. Both Le Toux and Mwanga had a number of chances to add to their goal totals against San Jose, but stellar play by Jon Busch kept both players off the board.
If the duo is to continue their respective breakout seasons, they’ll have to beat one of the league’s best young goalkeepers in Frei. The second-year standout has been a rock in net, with a 1.07 GAA that keeps falling by the match. Frei has been helped out by a defense that has turned the corner since a slow start to the season that saw them give up 10 goals in four matches. Centerback Adrian Cann has been a steadying influence in the middle and is joined by 21-year-old Nana Attakora, who has been solid as a full-time starter in his MLS fourth season. Philadelphia native Dan Gargan mans the left side of the backline, with Raivis Hscanovics, Nick Garcia and Maxim Usanov all rotating through the starting XI on the right in recent matches.
If Philadelphia can win the battle in the midfield, Le Toux and Mwanga will have a far easier time finding the space necessary to break down TFC’s tough defensive unit.
Stefani Miglioranzi vs Dwayne De Rosario
While De Rosario lines up in the midfield, he has the attacking mentality of a striker, as evidenced by his eight goals and three assists on the season. Philadelphia’s defense will inevitably have to deal with the Canadian international throughout the afternoon affair, but the Union will be far better off if Miglioranzi can limit the MLS All Star First XI’s ability to create chances for himself and others.
In a sense, the 32-year old Brazilian serves as the front line before opposing offenses reach the thick of Philadelphia’s defense. If he can win balls in the midfield and jumpstart the counter attack, the pitch will be weighted in favor of the home side like it was against Seattle, San Jose, and to a lesser extent Celtic.
Danny Califf vs Chad Barrett
With White sidelined, Barrett will be counted on to carry more of the offensive load than usual for the Reds. The only TFC player with more than two goals other than De Rosario, Barrett is scoring at a faster pace than ever this season with four tallies in 10 starts. The 25 year old’s service from the left flank led to Toronto’s game-winner against Toronto, and the striker has proven to be a handful for opposing defenses at times this season.
Califf will see a lot of Barrett on Saturday, and he’ll have to continue anchoring a defense that has seemingly found its footing aside from two stoppage time goals given up against San Jose. Still in search of their first shutout in league play, the Union will rely on Califf to shut down Barrett so the rest of the defense can focus on De Rosario and midfielder Julian de Guzman. If Califf can contain Barrett, and the Union’s defense can collectively limit De Rosario’s chances, Nowak’s crew may only need a single strike to walk away victorious.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula stress fracture)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Roger Torres (R ankle sprain)
PROBABLE: MF Kyle Nakazawa (R knee sprain); FW Alejandro Moreno (R knee contusion)
Toronto FC Injury Report
OUT: MF Martin Saric (R quad strain); FW O'Brian White (stomach flu)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Joseph Nane (R shoulder separation)
Date: Saturday, July 21, 2010
Time: 3:30pm ET
Location: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
Television: 6abc, MyNetworkTV – WQMY
Talent: JP Dellacamera (play-by-play), Tommy Smyth (color analyst)