Toronto FC managed to snap a four game losing streak on April 26th with their first win of the season since their opening day victory against Vancouver on March 7th, and will hope to continue their winning ways on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union.
What must Toronto do in order to win the match?
Well, it's questionable to reference Toronto's abysmal 2-6-4 record against the Union given the fact that Toronto have experienced a recent influx in spending, as well as the fact that Toronto's two losses against Philadelphia last season came during a very turbulent time and were back to back.
That being said, make no mistake, although the Philadelphia Union sit 9th in the Eastern Conference as of the writing of this article, they have shown their capacity to score goals, particularly from set pieces.
But first, let's look at the offensive side of the game for Toronto.
Offensively Toronto need to:
-Clog the middle.
In recent matches, Brian Carroll has been the man to relieve pressure off of the Philadelphia Union back-line, receiving the ball and acting as the transition point from defense to attack. By clogging the middle, Toronto will restrict Carroll's ability to pass but also potentially force Christian Maidana to drop deep to receive the ball, creating a gap in between the Argentinian and striker Fernando Aristeguieta, should he play. This will isolate Fernando who seems to struggle without service, and allow Michael Bradley to occupy the space vacated by Maidana. Which bring us to our next point.
-Allow Michael Bradley to sit deep and ping balls in to the forwards. It certainly worked for RSL's Javier Morales earlier this season, whose influence/domination of the game was clear, and allowed RSL's forwards to run riot against the Philadelphia back line.
On that same theme, get balls in behind the center backs to stretch the defense.
Steven Vitoria is dominant in the air and leads the team in clearances but looks much less comfortable when the ball is played in behind and when facing players with pace as opposed to having the ball in front of him, and relishing a physical battle. Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore is one of the best athletes in the league, and mixes a blend of speed, athleticism and pure strength into one package. He's a handful for any central defender, but if said central defender is constantly being pulled out of position is becomes nearly impossible to deal with Altidore.
-Force Maurice Edu to match Altidore physically, but allow Giovinco to make runs off of him.
Not only will Edu have his hands full with a newly inspired Altidore, but Giovinco's runs in behind can cause all sorts of problems for the less than quick Steven Vitoria. Edu is much shorter and less athletic than Altidore, he will not be able to match him 1 v 1 in a physical battle.
Other less easy to execute tactics include:
Both Michael Lahoud and Maurice Edu have been prone to committing silly or excessive fouls when playing in defensive midfield and Toronto can capitalize on this if the trend continues. Philadelphia have shown they struggle to defend set pieces and even with young keeper John McCarthy in for the abysmal Rais M'Bohli, this is still something teams can capitalize on. With Giovinco's quality on the ball, as evidenced by his stunner last week, as well as Altidore's prowess in the air, Toronto poses a huge threat on set pieces.
On the flip side, the Union have struggled defensively particularly on set pieces, which has forced manager Jim Curtin to return Maurice Edu to defense in an effort to once again steady the ship.
Here are the keys to success defensively for Toronto FC:
-Be prepared for a physical battle.
Each and every Philadelphia forward is built in a physical mold and has between 1-3 inches on Toronto defensive pairing Damien Perquis and Nick Hagglund. That being said, should Toronto do the above in forcing Maidana into uncomfortable situations, their center backs should be able to deal with and isolate Fernando.
-Dispossess Eric Ayuk as quickly as possible or keep him on the outside.
The 18 year old Cameroonian has already shown in his short time in MLS that his lightning quick pace can cause defenses big problems. But the youngster has one big draw back. Because of his slight build, he's easily dispossessed. Get the ball from him before he cuts in for a shot or show him to the outside and force him to cross the ball.
-Don't concede set pieces.
Particularly direct free kicks. The Union have shown their ability to score from static situations so far this season. For this reason, the return to full fitness of Christian Maidana is a welcomed one, but Frenchman Sebastian Le Toux has also proven his propensity for delivering quality set pieces for the Union this season.
If Toronto FC follow these steps they should be all but assured victory against Philadelphia on Saturday. But given the unpredictability of soccer, should isn't always good enough. Whatever the case may be, we should be in for a cracker come Saturday afternoon.