Toronto FC’s midweek loss means they can’t catch Philadelphia Union with a home win this Saturday, but Philly is still trying to hold off DC United and Montreal Impact when they take the field at BMO Field at 3:00 p.m. ET.
Jim Curtin could opt to use Marco Fabián at the tip of a diamond, but given how well Toronto exploited the wide spaces last time these two met, don’t be surprised if Curtin uses Monteiro to attack Bradley from the start while saving Fabián for the latter stages of the match. This would allow the Union to play in a 4-2-3-1 to better use their current crop of fully healthy players, including Fafa Picault and Ilsinho (the mid-match Fabián-for-Ilsinho switch would then seem almost guaranteed if the Mexican is healthy enough to play).
The Union head coach indicated that Fabián is fully healthy (“100%”) so there could be an effort to get the star creator back from the start Saturday. If so, it may be in the same second striker role Fabián occupied against LA Galaxy prior to his injury. This would allow Kacper Przybylko to remain as a target player with Monteiro shadowing Bradley.
Deeper in midfield, Curtin could use this road match to rest Haris Medunjanin given that a three match homestand is on the way, but Medunjanin’s top form could lead the coach to keep him in the mix for a big intra-conference matchup and save the rest for a Western Conference opponent.
The Reds run through Michael Bradley, but with Alejandro Pozuelo and Laurent Ciman in the lineup they have a few ways to attack the Union.
Let’s set everything else aside for a moment and focus on the big question: How do you stop Bradley without opening lanes to Pozuelo? Keeping Bradley off the ball isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s about getting him into safe positions when he has the ball and then forcing him to play to less dangerous teammates.
When Bradley drops into the back line, he’s hoping to pull a team’s shape apart vertically. If nobody steps up to press him, he can move the ball horizontally and then play a signature crossfield ball to the far side. The key, then, is to press Bradley in a way that forces him to play to a fullback and then trap on an endline. Easier said than done, of course, because TFC’s other midfielders are fantastic at moving into passing lanes and turning out of pressure once they receive.
With the ball at his feet, he can do almost anything. Getting tight to a player takes on a whole new meaning with the former Genk man — he can pick out runners at tight angles, execute cheeky chips, and generally produce magic even when he’s under pressure.
Philadelphia’s main issue with the creative genius is going to be understanding how dangerous he is even when you believe you’re tight to him.
A secondary concern is tracking Pozuelo in space, because when he drops into midfield he does an excellent job of playing the ball away, drifting into position to follow the play, and receiving a drop-back pass that allows him to view the whole field and tear apart a defense.
The Union will get their first look of the season at Toronto’s new playmaker at 3:00 p.m. ET on Saturday when they face off with Pozuelo, Bradley, and the rest of the Reds at BMO Field on PHL17.