Game: Philadelphia Union vs Toronto FC
Date: Saturday, May 2
Time: 4 p.m.
Venue: PPL Park
Television: ABC Channel 6
Nine games into the season is still a little early to start talking about must-win scenarios, but a Union team coming home from a thorough shellacking on the road to Columbus last week sure could use a victory on Saturday.
Toronto FC, which has been more or less the Union with a steeper payroll this season, is coming off a win they desperately needed at Orlando City. USMNT star Jozy Altidore scored a brace in the Reds' second win of the season, but more importantly for Toronto was the defense holding onto a clean sheet for the first time this campaign.
Toronto’s three games in hand is the only thing keeping their six points through six games from looking like the threat of a lost season staring the Boys in Blue in the face right now. A failure to contain Altidore, Michael Bradley and Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco could spell another disaster and a half empty stadium of "Beat the Traffic!" fans before whatever ineffective substitutions Jim Curtin makes in the final half hour.
As shaky as the Union defense was against Columbus last week and how quickly they self destructed with a one goal lead against New England at home the week prior, it might be asking a lot of the back line and goalkeeper John McCarthy (assuming Andre Blake still isn’t ready to go) to keep Toronto off the board.
One saving grace though might be that Toronto’s injury-plagued defense has been almost as bad as the Union’s, allowing 11 goals in 6 games (1.83 goals per game) to the Union’s 17 goals allowed in 9 games (1.88 goals per game).
Questionable for Saturday, starting goalkeeper Joe Bendik’s absence could be a huge lift for the Union, especially considering his Man of the Match performances at PPL Park in the past (Bendik’s backup is former Union keeper Chris Konopka). Defenders Steven Caldwell and Mark Bloom, midfielder Benoit Cheyrou and striker Luke Moore are unavailable for the game.
The Union will be without the services of Vincent Nogueira, Brian Carroll and Fred so the starting XI should be less depressing than it was last week, especially if it doesn't include the combination of slumping wingers Andrew Wenger and Sebastian Le Toux.
Toronto’s suspect defense, Bendik’s possible absence and the fact that no matter how much of a splash Toronto seems to make in the off-season they are seemingly doomed to the kind of failure that makes being a Union supporter not feel like such a bad lot in life after all could all be working in the favor of the home side on Saturday.
Not that we should be too optimistic. Predicting a 2-2 draw is as glass half full as I’m going to allow myself to get.