Embed from Getty Images
By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
After an essential win over Nashville SC to propel them into second place, the Union will be looking to continue the pressure heading into the postseason. A road game without an ample amount of rest won’t make this an easy trip, but an ideal playoff position will make it all worth it.
“We want to reach our goal of hosting a playoff game at Subaru Park, where we’ve been tough to play against, and that starts with a difficult road trip to Toronto,” Jim Curtin told media during a pre-match press conference. “This is a team that has a lot of talent and a lot of strong players. We have to treat it that way with the right mindset and mentality to try and get a result and bring some points back to Philadelphia. The table in our league at this point in the year doesn’t matter in terms of anybody can still beat anybody.”
As the ever-important playoffs draw nearer, the health and fitness of players remains a paramount concern, especially in the case of the Union, where a number of players have been utilized nearly every minute of the season. Curtin hit the jackpot with his 4-4-2 rotation, featuring, for the most part, the same players week in and week out across all competitions. While that could conjure up problems of overworked and fatigued players, Curtin has insisted that his players haven’t saddled a burden they couldn’t handle.
“I can’t stress enough, whether our guys are young or old, they work towards this and we knew what the schedule was long ago,” Curtin said. “We knew they’d be able to take the load.”
Curtin also continued to drive home the point that his team is treating every game as a must-win, and that they’re not counting out any time. With the New England Revolution already clinching first place and the Supporters’ Shield, maintaining second place is the top priority.
“We’re going to go after these points 100% against Toronto,” Curtin told reporters. “It’s not a situation where I’m going to say, ‘Let’s rest against Toronto and then go chase Cincinnati.’ We want to take care of business now when it’s in our hands and chase every point.”
The big question, then, is which players start. Andre Blake will not be available for selection against Toronto, as he will be in Jamaica following the loss of his grandmother. However, Sergio Santos will be able to play for “at least a half of regulation play”, which will be a saving grace for Kacper Przybyłko.
“Another striker in the stable to give Kacper a little bit of a break down the stretch would be great,” Curtin explained. “We need both [Santos and Cory Burke] to score goals if we really want to do something this year. We need another striker to step up in those big games, that’s the reality of the sport.”
However, as Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, the biggest challenge falling on the Union for this match is winning a game they’re expected to win. Toronto are second-to-last in the East, and not even powerhouses like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley have been able to salvage this season for the Reds.
The Union have suffered some disappointing results against teams that are admittedly beneath them in terms of quality and production. Curtin pointed out how the team is “trying to guard against letdowns”, along with “guarding against never getting too high, and when things are going tough, the group to get too low. I think the maturity of our group, even with the young players, I think we’re past that.”
Predicted Lineup: Matt Freese, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Daniel Gazdag, Kacper Przybyłko, Sergio Santos
- Freese has proven himself to be a worthy No. 2 goalie, and as long as Curtin sticks with arguably the best back line in MLS, he shouldn’t face too much pressure from the home side’s offense. In the midfield diamond, Gazdag’s hot streak has made an excellent case as to why he should snag the No. 10 position when the formation doesn’t allow that role to be shared, leaving room for Santos to start and take some scoring responsibility off of Przybylko upfront, even if he’s only on for one half.
Score Prediction: If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times—there are no easy games in MLS. However, Toronto are extremely vulnerable, and the Union have been given an invaluable boost of confidence after the Nashville game. A 3-1 win would be the perfect statement to let the other playoff teams know that the Boys In Blue mean business.