After a hard fought win that saw the Philadelphia Union shed their playing-against-10-men-curse (they drew a pair of games against 10-man Toronto FC last season and are 1-1-2 in those situations this season), the U travel to Toronto for the second of what may be the closest thing resembling a playoff series either team faces this season.
Toronto is in shambles.
New head coach Greg Vanneydropped his first match at the helm on Wednesday while still awaiting a nameplate for his reserved parking spot back in Toronto and an already depleted roster lost at least one and possibly two more players: midfielder Jonathan Osorio hobbled off at halftime and Ashtone Morgan took one for the team with a last man back automatic red card tackle on a Sebastien Le Toux breakaway.
In the case of Morgan, Vanney's starting XI might be better off considering the only two red cards of the 23-year-old Canadian's career (68 games) have come against the Union. Red cards have been shown in each of the last four games played between the teams when counting Joe Bendik's after the whistle second yellow in a game won on a last second Kleberson free kick last October. If Osorio is unable to recover for Saturday, the once vaunted Toronto offense already missing the injured Jermain Defoewill be even less of a threat to a Carlos Valdes-less Union backline in front of Zac MacMath.
Toronto's backline, which had Union-killer Joe Bendik's heroic goalkeeping to thank for keeping them a seemingly inevitable sucker punch away from snatching a point on Wednesday, already has center back Steven Caldwell and Justin Morrowinjuries to contend with so things aren't looking any brighter for the Reds on their return to BMO Field, the scene of gangbusting New England Revolution's Ryan Nelsen sending off party last Saturday.
With only one point to their name in their past four games, Toronto is now tied behind the trio of D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City and New England Revolution with Philadelphia and Columbus on 33 points. Though they have a game in hand on their rivals, that illusive first playoff berth is starting to look more and more like wishful thinking for the preseason team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia's season has gone in the opposite direction since they sacked their head coach in June. Under interim coach Jim Curtin, the Union have collected 18 of 30 points to further clog the middle of the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race and earned a berth into the U.S. Open Cup final being held at PPL Park on Sept. 16.
Impressive as the run has been, fatigue may be Philadelphia's biggest enemy right now.
A sweep of this two-game set would be ideal for the Union's playoff aspirations and take a lot of pressure off the New York Red Bulls game three days before the Open Cup Final, but any result should do the trick even if the current state of Toronto's affairs should have the boys in blue licking their chops for the kill.
For their part, Toronto is due not just for a league win but a win in this fixture - their last against the Union was a 1-0 home win May 26, 2012. Four of the 11 games between the teams have ended in 1-1 draws so I wouldn't be too surprised if both teams leave this game ruing missed chances.
It's not just Toronto, after all, with a supporter memory bank full of example after example of squandered points that were there for the taking when they were needed most.
Hopefully the boys in blue can pull off a sweep and breath easier going into the game against the New York Red Bulls.