On paper Saturday’s contest at PPL Park is a winnable contest for Toronto FC.
The Philadelphia Union are off to their worst start in franchise history and have conceded a whopping 17 goals through nine games. Their stars have yet to perform for Jim Curtin.
All of that is well and good but there’s a reason they play the games. It was Philadelphia that opposed the Reds when Greg Vanney began his TFC coaching tenure. It was Philadelphia that beat the Reds twice within four days, all but ending what was once a promising run to the playoffs.
What better time for payback than the final game in a long road trip that has been marred by inconsistency.
Here are three keys to the game.
Dealing with Philadelphia's Physicality
Connor Casey had a field day against TFC in the home and away series that marked the beginning of Vanney’s tenure.
The big, bruising striker scored twice in those two games. Philadelphia’s physicality remains a trademark of Curtin’s side in 2015 and it’s something TFC’s players know will be a factor on Saturday.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” said Michael Bradley. “In this league sometimes the most dangerous teams are the ones that haven’t been playing particularly well.”
“Physically they’re a strong team and they’re dangerous when they win the ball and are able to counter.”
The Union may have to rely on the counterattack quite often considering their possession stats are in the worst in the league, but there’s a reason matches like these are called traps. Bradley repeatedly referenced respect during his scrum with the media and for good reason.
“We have to go in there with total respect for them regardless of the way they started and know that it’s not going to be an easy game.”
Konopka’s Time To Shine?
The last time Chris Konopka started an MLS game was on May 26, 2012. He was a member of the Philadelphia Union, who were visiting BMO Field for a match against Toronto FC. Sometimes life comes full circle.
Joe Bendik is questionable for Saturday’s match after suffering a foot injury during the 2-0 win against Orlando. The exact term for the injury is a Plantar Fascia Strain.
“It’s nothing serious,” said Vanney following training on Thursday. “We don’t see it taking too long and like I said he’s questionable for the weekend. If it’s not this week we’re optimistic for next week.”
“It’s an opportunity should Joe not be able to go for somebody to show what they’re capable of doing.”
That somebody is Konopka. The 30-year-old has only started two MLS games, but with a busy May ahead of the club that number could increase quite significantly, starting in Philadelphia.
PPL Park is about an hour and half drive from Konopka’s hometown, Toms River, New Jersey, so there’s a strong possibility quite a few friends and family will be in attendance.
Stick With Two Lines Of Four
TFC eschewed their midfield diamond for the first time this season in Orlando and the results were positive.
The Reds kept their first clean sheet and were rarely troubled by Orlando’s attacking players. It’s very likely Vanney will employ the same system in Philadelphia, though there may be a one or two minor personnel tweaks.
“We did a good job defensively [in Orlando] and kept ourselves organized,” Vanney said.
“We were very difficult to break down so all things considered you won’t see a lot of changes, that’s for sure.”