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  • TFC v. Philly Preview: Getting On With It


    ccs-54-140264009178_thumb.jpgOk, Wednesday was a wash, in just about every sense of the word.

    The rain-soaked, lightning-addled, ill-fated second leg of the Canadian Championship was ultimately rescheduled to Canada Day weekend amid controversy and disdain. In the days since, we've read just about every possible word that could be written about the subject, so I'm not going to waste your time dwelling on it.

    Hopefully, TFC have also moved on.

    Early Saturday, the Reds play host to the surprising Philadelphia Union, another in an growing line of clubs who started MLS play after Toronto and have seemingly surpassed them. The Union sit an impressive second in the Eastern Conference, having amassed 17 points from their first 10 league matches.


    Philly can largely attribute their dramatic turnaround to the stellar leadership of Faryd Mondragon, the 39-year-old Colombian goalkeeper who has come in and completely transformed the side on the defensive end. Mondragon is the highest-paid netminder in the league, and he's been earning every penny so far this season.

    Donning the captain's armband, Mondragon has represented a massive upgrade for the Union in goal (where Chris Seitz was positively laughable in 2010), helping transform one of the worse defences in the league into the second-stingiest.

    He's also taken over as the club's on-field leader from resident hot-head Danny Califf. You may remember him for clotheslining Julian de Guzman in the home opener last year.

    Mondragon and the Union have won five of their 10 matches, putting them even on points with Eastern leaders New York (Philly loses out on goal differential) with a game in hand.

    With Philadelphia looking somewhat formidable, this match is likely a mountain for TFC to climb, right?

    Not necessarily, especially when you look at how the Union have gotten to where they are. They are by no means dominant, and have relied on a lot of luck and a mean home field advantage to grind out results, with all but one of their five wins coming from a 1-0 scoreline.

    But as the saying goes, you've gotta be good to be lucky, and Philadelphia have shown that they are a good soccer team in 2011.

    For all the great work they've done defensively, however, the Union are positively anemic in attack. They've scored just eight times this season, and are coming off their highest-scoring game of the season last weekend (a 2-1 home win over Chicago). Even more telling is the fact that Philadelphia have scored only once on the road in four matches away from PPL Park, and that goal came way back on opening weekend in Houston.

    Of course, TFC have had their own struggles trying to put the ball in the net, and with Alan Gordon still questionable, the brunt of the scoring chances will once again fall to the likes of Maicon Santos and Joao Plata.

    One would have to think that Philadelphia would key in on Toronto's newest dynamic duo, and the evidence is there to suggest that opponents have been doing just that recently. Plata has seen his freedom diminish as opposing sides try to lock down the Ecuadorean's preferred left side, while Maicon drifts in and out of games at the best of times, anyway.

    If Philly's new defensive stability can neutralize Maicon and Plata, the attacking duties will shift to whomever else is on Toronto's front line, likely Nick Soolsma and/or Alen Stevanovic.

    Dutchman Soolsma has been fantastic in moving the ball forward and taking players on, but in front of the net he has been prone to over-thinking rather than simply taking his chances, a characteristic that has cost TFC in recent games.

    Stevanovic has been battling similar mental demons. The young Serb is almost always one of the most skilled players on the pitch, and yet his propensity to try to do too much on his own in the final third is the key reason why he has yet to find a goal for himself since joining the side.

    One or both of those players will hold the key to Toronto taking points, not only in Saturday's match, but going forward.

    Toronto FC v. Philadelphia Union

    Saturday, May 28, 2011. 12:30pm EDT.

    BMO Field. Toronto, ON.

    Watch: GolTV Canada, MLS MatchDay Live

    Listen: FAN590.com

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