The Philadelphia Union open the season this weekend! They take on a Toronto side that is struggling. Will the Union start the season on the front foot?
I can’t recall the last time the starting lineup for the Union was this up-in-the-air just before the season-opener. Jim Curtin’s coaching acumen will be tested immediately in 2019 and we’ll all see how well he really knows his team. My gut tells me the back line will look like this: Blake, Real, Trusty, McKenzie and Gaddis. I know Fabinho and Wagner have both been getting time at left back, but Curtin can no longer justify going with Fabinho to start another season. Also, Wagner shouldn’t be thrown into the fire that quickly. Mbaizo has been playing well, but with one of Curtin’s favorites (Sapong) gone, expect the coach to get Gaddis on the field at right back.
The midfield will most likely consist of Bedoya, Medunjanin, Jones and Fabián. At forward I’d hope to see Burke and Santos, although with Santos nursing an injury this week, expect Fafa Picault to start. I still think Ilsinho’s best role is off the bench and I can’t really see him cracking this lineup on Saturday. The player who throws a wrench into everything is Fafa. Aside from Borek Dockal, it’s fair to say Fafa was the Union’s best player on the offensive side of the ball in 2018. So where does he fit in now?
The thought of sitting a player who’s accumulated 17 goals, 8 assists and just over 4,000 minutes in the past two seasons, for a club that has historically had trouble finding the back of the net, is difficult to fathom. Curtin’s option throughout the season could be playing either Fafa or Jones in the midfield based on that week’s match-up. It offers flexibility but could also have a detrimental effect when it comes to developing continuity and consistency in the midfield. Another option could be replacing either Burke or Santos if one should struggle after the first month of the season. I don’t envy Curtin here. This one is a really tough call.
Waiting for the Union in week one is Toronto FC. After a record-breaking 2017 campaign which resulted in winning the MLS Cup, The Reds dreadfully collapsed in 2018, sporting the fifth worst defense in Major League Soccer, along with only two victories away from BMO Field. The most notable departure for them during the off-season was perennial MVP candidate, Sebastian Giovinco. He took his 68 goals and 52 assists with him to Saudi Arabia and the offensive hole this creates for Toronto can not be overstated.
More than ever, Toronto FC will have to rely on veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to generate some offense. Hoping to supplement this, they will be joined by fellow USMNT member Terrence Boyd who has proven he can score in the second tier division of Germany and the Austrian premiere league, but has yet to play a match in MLS. Shoring up their lackluster defense, they also acquired former DC United midfielder, Nick DeLeon as well as former MLS Best XI member and MLS Defender of the Year, Laurent Ciman. Even with these new additions, defensive chemistry takes time to develop and I don’t think Toronto will have it yet. It will be a tight affair but the boys in blue should come out victorious.
Union:2 Toronto FC: 1
Union Man of the Match:
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports