The appetizer to your Memorial Day Soccer Saturday kicks off at 12:30 on Comcast SportsNet. It was such an amazing sentence to read that I couldn't resist lifting it directly from the MLS.com game preview..."Toronto FC remain home to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field".
Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union. It even feels strange to type that. Yes, they are tied with New York (who has a game in hand) for first place, and technically are listed second in the standings thanks to goal differential, but the fact remains that ten games into the season the second year Union sit atop the table. Fairly remarkable, no?
In the course of preparing to write this I took a quick look at the Union's road record this season. Thus far they are 1-3-0 on the road. I wanted to compare their road futility with the other teams in the league to see how they stacked up away from home. What I saw was stunning.
If you had to guess how many of the 18 MLS teams had a winning record on the road what would you say? The answer? Three teams, LA 3-2-3, Real Salt Lake 2-1-1,and Chivas USA 2-1-2, are (barely) over .500 on the road.
How is that possible? What explains that? Honestly, I have no idea aside from the conventional soccer wisdom that road teams play more conservatively on the road in the hope of escaping with a point. Is the travel that rigorous? Are the home crowds that important? I mentioned this is an earlier post, and I have zero documentation to back it up, but I'd venture to say that those road numbers are even worse for teams traveling cross-country. Yes, I am making wild claims based on zero empirical evidence. Go with it.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, perhaps we should temper our expectations when the Union are away from PPL Park. Now, Toronto is not an elite MLS team. They currently sit in sixth place in the East, tied with D.C. United, with 12 points from 12 games. They bring a -6 goal differential into the match.
They are coming off a game where their leading scorer, Maicon Santos (3 goals on the season), came off the bench in the 60th minute. Similarly, in their last game they started an entirely new midfield. This is a team trying to figure out who they are and who can play where.
Yes, BMO Field used to be a very difficult place to play, but if the Union are going to earn some much needed road points this may be the spot to do it. This is particularly true considering that TFC just played a rain shortened game against Vancouver on Tuesday night as part of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.
The Union are riding high after their offensive explosion (sarcasm) last week. For the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a game. Both goals came off of dead ball situations. Michael Farfan flawlessly executed a textbook training ground corner kick. Carlos Ruiz put the Union ahead in style with that ridiculous golazo. It's wonderful that they executed on set pieces, but now the challenge will be to actually, you know, score some goals from the run of play.
The defense, playing in front of Faryd Mondragon, continues to be this team's strength. Although I hate to make yet another baseball comparison in a Union pregame post the fact remains that defense, like good pitching, will keep you in games and give you a chance to win each time out.
I'd imagine the first five names on Peter Nowak's team sheet each week are Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Harvey. The sixth is obviously Sebastien Le Toux, who along with Mondragon and Valdes, has played every minute of every game thus far. Le Toux = fitness.
You'd have to guess that after last week Ruiz is also going to be penciled into the lineup. Which brings us to the midfield, where there has been the most flux this season. Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel, Stefani Miglioranzi, the Farfan brothers...take your pick. No one has really put a stranglehold on a position. Last week it was Michael Farfan, Carroll, Okugo, and Mapp. This week? I have no idea. Perhaps coming off of a win this group will start together again.
Here’s the lineup I hope we see today: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Torres, Okugo, Carroll, Farfan, Le Toux, Ruiz.
Final Score Prediction: Just like pimpin' winning on the road aint easy. I see this one ending 1-1.
The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Let's go with Ruiz. It would be so him to follow up on that ridiculous goal from last week with a red card this week.