Who: Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC
When: Saturday July 18th, 4:00 PM
Where to watch: The Comcast Network, MLS Live
An on-fire Sebastian Giovinco and a trio of returning Gold Cup players will host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday in the first of two trips the boys in blue make to Toronto this season.
Giovinco tied for the third fastest hat trick in MLS history for the Reds last time out, scoring three goals in a nine-minute span. Unfortunately for TFC, that was still not enough to secure all three points in a wild 4-4 shootout with New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. The 28-year-old Italian scored the only goal of the match the last time TFC and the Union met off a first half set piece, and has eleven goals in seventeen games in his first season in MLS.
Coach Greg Vanney's roster selection was made easier by Canada's failure in the Gold Cup and Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to leave the mostly ineffective and not quite 100 percent Jozy Altidore off the U.S. roster for the knockout round.
Even a less than fully fit Altidore will be a welcome presence either in the starting XI or off the bench on Saturday with U.S. skipper Michael Bradley still missing from the Toronto lineup. Regulars Jonathan Osorio and Ashtone Morgan will look to rebound from a rough showing for Team Canada, which was eliminated from the competition on Tuesday after failing to score for the third straight game.
Goalkeeper Joe Bendik will be back in the lineup looking to win his job back after former Union keeper Chris Konopka was handed a one-match suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for "endangering the safety of an opponent" in the NYC FC game. Konopka kept a clean sheet against his former club at PPL Park in early May after Bendik, who seems to have his best outings against the Union, was injured.
The Union, meanwhile, have gained some desperately needed momentum in recent weeks with wins over the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, a draw with the Montreal Impact, and a comeback win down a man against D.C. United in the Open Cup. Perhaps more importantly for the attack, Andrew Wenger finally broke his brutal to watch goal-scoring drought against Portland and will want to add to his total against a defense that has surrendered eight goals in its last two matches. With Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira and CJ Sapong clicking, three points is neither out of the question or too much to ask for.
If there's a playoff push in this team yet, it probably needs to start in Toronto with games against three other teams leading them in the Eastern Conference standings to follow - D.C. United, New York Red Bulls and Orlando City. The Union are just under the magic red playoff line and only two points behind Toronto FC (and three other teams) in the standings.
The fear is that the combination of Maurice Edu missing from the back line due to yellow card accumulation and a player as locked in as Giovinco is right now could be a harsh dose of reality for a team that has made a habit the last few seasons of giving glimmers of hope to hold us over through the summer only to crash and burn when the leaves start to change.