The Philadelphia Union will travel to Canada to start their second-ever run in the playoffs with a tough match against Toronto FC.
The first round of the playoffs is a knockout round. One game—win or go home. The problem is that the Union have forgotten how to win. They are riding a 7-game winless streak stretching back to August 27 (a 2-0 at Talen Energy Stadium against Sporting KC). However, the Union had banked a bunch of points earlier in the season, which enabled them to limp into the playoffs with no momentum whatsoever.
Toronto FC had gone through their own struggles as they closed out the season. They were enduring a 5-game winless streak going into the their final regular season match against the Chicago Fire. They ended the season on a positive note with a 3-2 win. (The winless streak can be attributed in part to the fact that Sebastian Giovinco, the league’s reigning MVP, was out of action due to muscle strains for most of that time.)
Toronto has struggled scoring goals lately, but their scoring capability has been jacked back up with the return of Giovinco into their starting lineup two games ago. With Jozy Altidore joining him up front, Michael Bradley anchoring the midfield, and Clint Irwin protecting the goal, the Reds have the talent to take them on a deep run into the playoffs.
The Reds and the U have met twice in MLS action so far this season. The first meeting on August 20 in Chester was notable for a terrible performance by Union rookie centerback Ken Tribbett, who watched Giovinco run past him for one goal and was pushed away by Altidore for another. Tribbett actually scored on header in between those goals, but his defensive performance was so bad that he ended up being subbed out at halftime. Toronto won that game easily 3-1.
The second matchup in Toronto was a more evenly played affair that ended up in 1-1 draw. The Union got the better of play in the first half and took the lead when Alejandro Bedoya scored his first MLS goal on a beautifully chipped ball that was out of the reach of Irwin. Toronto took over in the second half and tied it on a Justin Morrow goal.
Union fans may be still hungry for a home playoff match since they haven’t had one since 2011, but the Toronto fans are absolutely starved for one. Toronto has been in the league since 2007, but has never hosted a playoff match. BMO Field will not be a pleasant atmosphere for the Union to try to get that elusive win as the Toronto fans should be going crazy once they get a taste of playoff action.
One thing Union manager Jim Curtin has been is consistent, and we know he doesn’t like to tinker with his preferred lineup. With the one-and-done nature of this game (and his job possibly hanging in the balance), it is easy to predict who will be in the starting XI. Assuming Joshua Yaro has recovered from his concussion, he should be out there in place of Tribbett. CJ Sapong has been in a slump, but considering Curtin hasn’t benched him yet despite his struggles, I expect to see him up top again (assuming he has recovered from his own concussion). One question mark is who plays in the Number 6 spot, where both Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle have been getting opportunities in the starting lineup. With the potential that this could be Carroll’s last game in MLS (if he decides to retire) and the fact that the Union could use Carroll’s defensive prowess against Toronto’s firepower, I’ll go with BC here.
One person we know won’t be in the lineup is Maurice Edu. It was rumored he was going to start in the Union’s game against the New York Red Bulls last week, but he fractured his fibula in practice, and is done for the season. While it is an unfortunate blow to Edu’s season (and perhaps career), I think it would have been a questionable decision to let him see action in the playoffs, considering he hadn’t played a single minute in MLS this year. While all Union fans wish the best for Edu, the boys in blue are better off going with group that got them here.
Possible first XI: Blake; Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry; Carroll, Bedoya; Pontius, Barnetta, Herbers; Sapong
Prediction: Breaking out of their offensive slump in a hostile BMO Field will be too much to ask of the Union, and the defense will have their hands full dealing with Giovinco and Altidore. Toronto FC 2, Union 0.