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Toronto FC travels to Philadelphia looking to better execute on offence

Toronto FC visits the Philadelphia Union on Saturday in a matchup of MLS teams that are not where they want to be — in ninth and 10th place in the Eastern Conference, respectively.
Atlanta United midfielder Matheus Rossetto, left, drives down field past Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio, centre, during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Atlanta. Toronto FC visits the Philadelphia Union on Saturday in a matchup of MLS teams who are not where they want to be -- in ninth and 10th place in the Eastern Conference, respectively. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Alex Slitz

Toronto FC visits the Philadelphia Union on Saturday in a matchup of MLS teams that are not where they want to be — in ninth and 10th place in the Eastern Conference, respectively.

With a league-high six draws already under its belt, Toronto (1-1-6) needs to turn ties into wins. And Philadelphia (2-4-2) is searching for the team that finished runner-up in the Supporters' Shield race last season, averaging 1.97 points a game (compared to 1.0 this season).

Toronto's current seven-game unbeaten run is also seven games with just one victory (1-0-6). The Union, despite dispatching Mexico's Atlas FC to advance to the semifinals of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, are winless in their last five league outings (0-3-2).

"More times than not this season we've been a little bit inconsistent," Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said this week. "And now it's about putting together a complete and total 90 minutes. And we talked about that with our group.

"And obviously we have a tough test now against a Toronto team that has proven to be a very good team so far. Their margins have been very tight. They've had a lot of games where they've tied where they actually deserve to win as you watch the film back. So a strong opponent. A lot of attacking talent. A team that has only been beat once this year. And again is playing some pretty good soccer."

Toronto coach Bob Bradley was equally complimentary.

"'They're a good team. They're trying to balance the Champions League run with the league," Bradley said of the Union. "That's not easy."

Bradley and Curtin go way back, with Bradley coaching Curtin at the start of his playing career with the Chicago Fire in 2001-02.

Toronto is coming off consecutive draws against Atlanta (2-2), at Nashville (0-0), against Charlotte (2-2) and at San Jose (0-0).

Captain/midfielder Michael Bradley (lower body) and centre back Matt Hedges (concussion protocols) are expected to be out for a second week in a row. Fullback Cristian Gutierrez and forward Deandre Kerr are both getting over illness.

Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio captained Toronto last week in Bradley's absence.

There is a question mark over Italian star Federico Bernardeschi, listed as questionable with a lower body injury.

Bernardeschi has been an offensive force since making his TFC debut alongside fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne last July. The 29-year-old winger has been involved in 17 of Toronto's 32 goals (11 goals and six assists) since joining the club, including 11 of the last 19 (seven goals, four assists).

Spanish midfielder Victor Vazquez and Norwegian forward Adama Diomande (both lower body) could see some minutes off the bench, according to Bob Bradley. Diomande has not played since March 4 when he left at halftime of TFC's second game of the season — a 1-1 tie in Atlanta.

But, with nine games between now and the end of May, TFC may be cautious in bringing back the walking wounded.

The good news is Insigne — after a 14-minute cameo appearance off the bench last weekend following a six-game injury absence — had a good week in training and is expected to have a bigger role this weekend.

The hope is Insigne can spark a depleted attack on a team struggling to execute better on offence.

Bob Bradley says his team has been working hard in training to "create game actions … the kind of movements and the kind of actions that you think as a team are important."

"Being able to do it when it happens," he added, snapping his fingers, "to recognize the moment, to get the timing. Yeah, that's the challenge. That's what differentiates the best players and the best teams."

"Right now we are a team that on one hand is doing well enough that we are competing and we are in every game, but our margin is just razor-thin," he added. 

Philadelphia has conceded the first goal in seven of its eight league outings this year. The match that it didn't was a 1-0 win over Chicago on March 11 that saw the Fire finish with just nine men after two red cards and Philadelphia not score until the 90th minute.

The Union rank 19th in the league on defence, conceding 1.38 goals a game. Toronto is tied for 11th at 1.13 goals per game.

On a positive note, the Union have won their last three home games against Toronto while outscoring TFC 12-0. That margin of victory by one team over another in three straight home matches is the largest in MLS history (the record over four is 15, set by FC Dallas which outscored Kansas City 16-1 from 1999 to 2000).

Toronto, which was 2-11-4 in league play away from home last season, has yet to win on the road this year at 0-1-3. Philadelphia is 2-1-1 at Subaru Park this season. 

Kai Wagner (hamstring), Damion Lowe (hamstring) and Leon Flach (pelvis) are listed as questionable for Philadelphia.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press