Date: Saturday, September 24th
Time: 5:00 PM EDT
Venue: BMO Field (Toronto, Canada)
Officials: REF: Chris Penso, AR1: Mike Rottersman, AR2: Adam Garner, 4TH: Daniel Radford
Television: The Comcast Network, TSN2, DirecTV 471
Streaming: MLS Live
The Union travel to first place Toronto FC, looking to turn their latest fortunes around and cement their spot in the playoffs. The Union are winless in their last three matches, and just four games removed from an embarrassing 3-1 loss to Toronto at home. Even a point would go a long way to restoring confidence and landing the club's first playoff game since 2011.
What to expect from the Union
If you've watched one Union game this year you pretty much know what to expect. The hallmark of the Union this season has been extreme consistency, both in terms of players and tactics. From a tactical perspective they play a balanced style with a slight lean to being aggressive. Offensively the Union will seek to control possession (but not extensively) and when the opportunity strikes, they will counter - but not with the directness of the best counter attacking teams. Defensively they will press at times and won't sit too deep. The Union like to get their offensive full backs involved and are willing to bend their shape to do so. This causes problems for their young back line, but the Union seem to be content with the risk. This makes the Union susceptible to teams that bunker and counter which has been a tactic they've seen more as the season progresses. When the Union are down one goal or up one, things tend not to change. What you see is what you get. If the extremes are possession oriented soccer or counterattacking soccer, then the Union fall squarely in the middle. That's not to place a value judgement. The approach has worked well enough, but it does leave you wondering if a more flexible adaptable system might be able to take advantage of different opponent's tactics and weaknesses.
From a personnel perspective, all the players know their roles and changes have been few and far between. That said there are a few issues to work through in this match. Josh Yaro is suspended for the match as a result of his red card in Portland, which means that Ken Tribbett will man central defense alongside Richie Marquez. Despite scoring a wonderful goal, Tribbett had a horrid first half against Toronto defensively and will be motivated to avenge that performance. The only question mark is whether Warren Creavalle will play alongside Alejandro Bedoya as the defensive midfielder, or if Brian Carroll keep the spot given to him when Creavalle developed a minor foot injury. Jim Curtin said that Maurice Edu will be traveling to Toronto but I wouldn't expect him to get anything but substitute minutes if he sees the field at all.
Fabian Herbers seems to have cemented himself as the right wing, pushing Ilshino to the bench. While the Union offense has not seen a spark since the move was made, Herbers has been the more disruptive of the two players of late and deserves the start. Charlie Davies earned his most time on the field last week even though he touched the ball just once and may be in line for a bigger role if CJ Sapong continues to struggle getting and making shots.
What to expect from Toronto
In Jim Curtin's press conference this week he was asked if he's considered a change to a 4-4-2 formation. The Union have started every single game and played nearly every single minute in a 4-2-3-1. Jim Curtin said that he didn't want to "all of a sudden completely change." Contrast that mentality with Toronto's coach Greg Vanney where change is completely normal. Leading up to the last match against the Union, Vanney was employing a 3-5-2 formation. When his team stationed in Philadelphia they sat deep in a 4-4-2 formation. Since the game they've played a 3-5-2, 4-3-1-2 and 4-2-3-1 formation. So as far as tactics are concerned, expected the unexpected. Call Vanney the anti-Curtin.
A big question for this match is the health of Sebastian Giovinco, who has not played in nearly a month due to muscle strains. Last week Vanney said he was day-to-day, but Gio ultimately didn't see the 18. This week I'd expect a late substitution if the game is tight, but his absence represents a big opportunity for the Union.
The key for Toronto is their excellent compact defense, which has allowed the second fewest goals in the league. They used that defense to spring effective counters against the Union in the last matchup and expect they'll take a similar approach this time, even at home. Jozy Altidore is still in red hot form with eight goals in his injury shortened season and star Michael Bradley will look for his target man on the counter often.
What to expect at the end of 90 minutes
Just when fans have counted them down the Union seem to rise to the occasion and put together a strong performance. I think they will eventually but I don't see this being the match. The Union will manage a goal against the stout defense but won't be able to control Toronto's offense and will lose 2-1.