The Brotherly Game: The last time our clubs met was back on May 2, and Toronto won on a Sebastian Giovinco free kick beauty.
How has TFC changed since then?
Waking The Red: With Toronto starting their season on that long road trip, the match in Philadelphia being the last of seven, it was difficult to get a cohesive image of how the team would try and approach the season. Road matches are more about survival than thriving, and so the TFC side that was witnessed that day showed those signs of a team eager to get grab a result and get back home; a side still learning to flex its collective muscle.
Perhaps that is a little unfair, Greg Vanney has installed some consistency in how his side approaches a match, whether home or away, occasionally to their detriment, as the 4-0 loss in LA bears witness.
But since that early May meeting, Toronto has grown into a far more dominant side, in terms of possession and patience, that ability to work through an opponent - though that has disappeared a bit of late, beginning with that surprise defeat to New York City in June.
Looking back over those early days, there was a real long ball, counterattack method to their play. Giovinco is still a threat, and the occasional defense-splitting pass is still a good option, but with more familiarity under their belts, Toronto is just as likely to work through an opponent as to by-pass them.
Just look at a few of the goals from the 4-4 result in New York City last weekend - numbers two and three specifically. Both were scored by Giovinco, but the build-up play involved numerous other players - first Collen Warner and Jackson playing through the middle to spring Giovinco, then Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow, Marky Delgado, and Robbie Findley combining up the right to find the Italian in the area.
To say that the plan is not 'get the ball to Giovinco' would be a little obtuse, but that other players have grown into their roles bodes well for the rest of the season. And that was without Michael Bradley on the pitch.
Back in the last meeting, Bradley was still trying to cover too much ground, both defending and attacking, doing neither to full effect. He will not be available, but that move, committing Bradley to an advanced position, has really strengthened the consistency of the attack.
As far as personnel are concerned, it will largely be the same eleven, barring Bradley's absence. So to sum up that rambling response, the key difference from May to now is that the team has grown into itself, narrowing the gap between how they draw it up on the chalkboard and how it plays out on the field - except for the eight goals allowed through the last two matches.
tBG: Former Philadelphia Union and current Toronto FC goalkeeper Chris Konopka is suspended for Saturday for a hard tackle on New York City FC's Andoni Iraola. What's the general feeling about Joe Bendik going into goal this weekend?
WTR: Normally, losing the first-choice keeper would be a cause for concern, but as the performances of Konopka since stepping in for Bendik in that early May match in Philadelphia ha shown, Toronto does not really have a one-two keeper system, more of a one-A and one-B deal.
Both keepers have strengths and weaknesses to their games: Bendik's distribution is a touch suspect, while Konopka has been prone to the odd misstep - the penalty kick he conceded to David Villa was an inexperienced, rush-of-blood move on a wily veteran.
There is always a little bit of trepidation when a keeper has not seen first team action in a while, but Bendik is a solid professional and will be chomping at the bit to get back out their and retake what he sees as his position.
Digging deep, the one possible difficulty is that Bendik has not seen a lot of time with this back-line, so communication and the ability interpret how a defender will react to a given situation may prove to be a liability. Bendik will be familiar with Morrow and Nick Hagglund, they have played together quite a bit; less so with Ashtone Morgan, who spent much of last season on the bench. The amount of time shared with Damien Perquis and Eriq Zavaleta is even less.
That could lead to the occasional concession of an extra corner kick or losing the odd-second on restarts, but they should get past that rather quickly.
tBG: This will be the first time the Union have played at BMO since the renovations. Can you give our readers a sense of how the stadium is now versus how it was last season?
WTR: BMO Field is still largely the same cozy place it was previously, especially on the ground level, where the only real changes have been the addition of some extra stairwells.
The TFC supporters' sections have been consolidated at the South End, and the away support sits in a similar place to where they did before - in that North-East corner of the stadium. Given there is now a second deck there, visitors are a lot higher than they used to be, but should still get a nice view of the proceedings, though interaction between home and away fans, in terms of singing back and forth, may be a little more difficult until the canopy is put in next season. Hopefully that will capture and redirect some sound so rowdy visiting fans who make noise when the homers are quiet, can make themselves heard - now it just sort of floats away into the ether.
The best thing that the renovations have done is made the whole stadium more inclusive. One can now walk fully around the second deck - it is still horseshoe-shaped however, while the ring around the ground level has been decluttered a little.
Amenity-wise, the basic lay out of the stadium has been to consolidate certain foods together - there are some BBQ pits, a few gourmet hot dogs assemblies, a taco stand, and a Taste of Italy thing (they have porketta and stuff like that); the club also has a partnership with Smoke's Poutine, so the full Canadian experience can be had in the ground.
The same goes for drinks: beer everywhere, with Bacardi and El Jimador stands sprinkled about. There is a patio-style assembly at the North End of the stadium, the King Club, as well. Good for killing a bit of time prematch, but otherwise not a great view of the match - the North Stand blocks most of the action unless one can grab a table way at the front.
Most gamedays have some of the pre-match fun stuff for kids: target practice, human foosball, freestyle exhibitions; that sort of thing. Though if anyone is coming up for this weekend, be forewarned: there are a bunch of Pan Am events on the Exhibition Grounds, so access is restricted to two entrances and parking is severely limited - so give oneself a little extra time to get to the match.
A directory for the ground level can be found here - a PDF map of the gates for the grounds with the Pan Ams on can be downloaded here.
Do not foresee any major changes, aside from Bendik in for Konopka. There is a question mark over who will pair with Perquis in the centre of defense, either Hagglund or Zavaleta could slot in there:
Joe Bendik; from right to left - Justin Morrow, Damien Perquis, Eriq Zavaleta, and Ashtone Morgan across the back; Marky Delgado, Collen Warner, Benoit Cheyrou, and Jonathan Osorio through the midfield - Cheyrou will take the more advanced role; Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco up top.
2-2; both teams will score goals, Toronto's defense is a little frail at the moment, and Philadelphia is in fine form. Plus it wouldn't be a TFC season if they didn't put a little fear into the supporters come the midpoint of the season - a four-match winless run would do that.