The year is 2016, and the Union have clinched a playoff berth for only their second time in franchise history. This year however, the Union travel to Canada as they get 2015 MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco and the rest of Toronto FC. Since the last time the Union were in the playoffs, the playoff format has changed a little bit. The Union were the 3 seed in 2011, and subsequently took on the number 2 seed Houston Dynamo in a 2 game aggregate series. This year, the Union are the 6th seed which means they will be playing in a “Wild Card” game against number 3 seed Toronto.
Philadelphia Union analysis
Despite the horrible form that the Union are in, the blue and gold have managed to limp into the 2016 playoffs. However, a huge note heading into the playoffs for them this year is yet another injury to Designated Player and Captain Maurice Edu. Edu after missing every single this year, was finally ready make his season debut against the Redbulls on October 23rd following a stress fracture in his leg. Just days before his debut, Edu broke his fibula in training. The break has caused Edu to not only miss the last game of the season, but miss the entire playoffs as well. Despite the heart-breaking injury the rest of his teammates will look to pick up the slack in the playoffs.
The Union defense will certainly be on high alert as they take on the crafty Sebastian Giovinco, and the very talented Jozy Altidore. It appears Richie Marquez and Ken Tribbett will be the center backs on Wednesday as many people will be concerned with Tribbett. Tribbett doesn’t have the speed or agility to deal with Giovinco, so Marquez is certainly going to have to back him up. Marquez will be the anchor in the back, look for him to be covering Jozy Altidore the whole game, as well as helping Tribbett.
On the outside will be Keegan Rosenberry and Fabinho. Rosenberry, a rookie of the year candidate will be trying to stick Giovinco and could be someone who helps the centerbacks across the back line. Fabinho will be on the other side, look for him and his left foot to be assisting the Union attack and providing wonderful crosses inside the box.
Finally Andre Blake will be in the net. I expect a lot of shots will be going Blake’s way, so once again Andre will be diving all over the place. He needs to be patient with the shots he faces, and needs to be vocal in a rowdy BMO field to a shaky backline.
With the midfield we will look at 5 players. In the defensive mid positons expect Brian Carroll and Alejandro Bedoya to patrol the middle of the field. Carroll will have to be vocal as he will be one of the only guys with playoff experience on the field Wednesday. He will most likely track back and try to shade Giovinco the whole game. As for Bedoya, look for him to play behind Barnetta, and help facilitate the offense.
Looking on the sides, I believe Ilsinho will be on the right, and Chris Pontius will be on the left. Ilsinho will be more of a playmaker, trying to make moves past the defense, and providing key passes that set up attacks. Pontius will be looked at as more of a finisher, as many will for him to make some key runs towards the defense, as well as taking several shots from outside the box and in.
Finally we look at Tranquillo Barnetta who will run this Union offense. He will be the man who will probably have the most touches on the ball, take all the set pieces, and take the most shots in the game. He has been sensational for the Union this year, so expect him to have his influence all over the game on Wednesday.
The Union will only have one forward out there and it will be C.J. Sapong. Expect his athleticism to be on display, as the Union will look for him to head in some crosses. With his big body as well, he will have his back to the goal and set up nice passes to guys making runs in to the box.
Projected Philadelphia Union Lineup
* Subject to change
Toronto FC analysis
When people think of Toronto FC, they think of the big 3. Midfielder Michael Bradley, and forwards Jozy Altidore and the 2015 MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco. After they got destroyed in the first round of their first playoff birth in 2015, they brought in some veteran talent this year in an effort to survive the first round this year. Midfielder Will Johnson and defender Drew Moor both have playoff experience, and can bolster this Toronto squad for the 2016 season.
Along the backline for Toronto will most likely be Justin Morrow, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta, and Steve Beitashour. Beitashour and Morrow are two talented outside backs who will cause the Union problems. Morrow has the ability to make runs down the line, and can be a factor on set pieces either heading them in or heading them away. Beitashour is vital to the Toronto defense. He can stick and cover many players in this league, and will be tough to make moves past. In the middle will be Eriq Zavaleta who is a big body that knows how to use it in the air. What can beat him however, is runs over the top. To beat him you need to make him run you down, since his footwork isn’t the best. Finally, Drew Moor will be the other center back of this defense. He is the anchor in the back and is well rounded in every defensive aspect such as tackling, or just clearing away balls in the air. He will be a factor in the back, and will give the Union fits all day. The one position Toronto is weak in though is goalkeeper. Clint Irwin will be in the pipes, and if the Union want to beat him they need to fire shot after shot on him. Irwin isn’t as quick as Blake, so if the Union want to beat him they need to catch him off guard with one-timers.
The midfield will be a diamond for Toronto, with Michael Brady in the middle as a defensive mid. Look for his big body and presence in the middle of the field to cause problems for Philadelphia. He will be the first line of defense for Toronto and the anchor of the offense. The captain of Toronto will be tough out there, as many expect him to shadow Tranquillo Barnetta all game.
On the sides will be Marco Delgado and Armando Cooper. Cooper has some great speed and skill, and will certainly try to attract some of the defense so Giovinco could get more open. Delgado isn’t as skillful or pacey, but knows where to be at the right time. Expect him to help out more defensively.
At the top of the diamond will be Jonathan Osorio whose great passing could be lethal against the Union. Expect Bradley to back him up, but there will be plenty of times where Osorio will be on the ball looking for Giovinco.
Jozy Altidore will be the first forward showcased. The American is just like Sapong except a little bit better than him. He’s big, strong, fast, and athletic, and will be tough to stop. He’s got great positioning and a great foot to finish shots off. Expect his big body to shield defenders away so he can place a perfect pass to Giovinco. But be careful, because Altidore is lethal on set pieces so someone has to cover him at all times.
Finally, we will highlight Sebastian Giovinco. He’s crafty, versatile, and dangerous. He’s got great skill on the ball, and has the ability to finish off a shot from practically anywhere on the field. He can take free kicks that are 30 yards out, and could curve the ball like no other. He’s going to be tough for the Union defense to stick because of his great speed and versatility. I expect him to take at least 5 shots on goal Wednesday, as many hope and pray the Union defense can contain him. If the Union want to win they need to keep a body in front of him at all times, and make sure they don’t foul right outside the box, because if they do you can imagine Gio will certainly put a shot on frame off of that free kick.
Toronto FC Lineup
* Subject to change
It’s going to be a tough battle but if the Union could put on the performance of their lives, I think this could be a winnable game. If they can dominate possession and limit Giovinco’s touches on the ball, they have a shot of winning this game. Check out the game on ESPN2 at 7:30 tonight.
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