After traveling to Cincinnati, Guadalajara, and Chicago for their last three matches, Union will finally return to Subaru Park on Saturday night in an Eastern Conference showdown with Toronto FC. Coming off their 4th consecutive draw, Toronto will look to earn three points on the road for the first time this season against a struggling Philadelphia, who hasn’t won in MLS play since matchday three with a last-minute winner against a 10-man Chicago.
Despite their rocky start, Union have an opportunity on Saturday night against Toronto to build off of two straight road draws which required the blue and gold to battle through adversity to earn. Here are 5 things to watch ahead of the matchup
Key players return from injury, but will rotation keep them out of the squad this Saturday?
During his midweek press conference, Union Head Coach Jim Curtin provided updates on a few players that have been battling injury and all missed the action last Saturday night. Starting left back Kai Wagner, who’s missed the last few games with a hamstring injury, has trained fully this week and is back to 100% fitness.
Summer acquisition Damion Lowe also missed the last few games dealing with a small hamstring injury and will also be back to 100%. Leon Flach, which Jim Curtin revealed has an injury in the pelvic area that kept him out against Chicago returned to training and should be close to full fitness by the weekend. And Lastly, Olivier Mbaizo is also dealing with some hamstring tightness, but shouldn’t be anything serious, and could be in the squad this weekend.
So that’s great, right? The union will have almost all of their players available for selection at home against Toronto, on the back of two hard-fought draws, with a chance to put together their first complete 90-minute performance of the 2023 season so far. But, there’s another important game coming up that Union might be saving their best for. Wednesday night will be the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarter Finals, in an MLS Cup rematch between Union and LAFC.
While Jim Curtin says they won’t throw points in MLS Away, they have been upfront about prioritizing the competition and how they’ll need to rely on the entire team with the fixture congestion. Before the second leg of the CCL Quarter-Finals against Atlas, Union rolled out a heavily rotated lineup to rest legs for the midweek matchup, which ended up paying off. I wonder if we’ll see something similar this weekend with LAFC coming to town Wednesday night.
Union aren’t the only ones getting healthy – possible return for Lorenzo Insigne
Lorenzo Insigne was a huge signing meant to revitalize things in Toronto, and while it certainly heightened the excitement around the club from the North, a second-to-last finish in MLS in season one, and an injury that’s kept Insigne out almost all of season 2 so far has to be a bit frustrating for fans of TFC. After getting injured in the first half of Matchday 1, Lorenzo Insigne returned to action last Saturday where he played 14 minutes in a 2-2 draw against Atlanta United.
Insigne only played 11 matches for Toronto last season but scores six goals and two assists in those games, and is a huge piece to Toronto’s attacking success. While It’s unclear whether Insigne is fit enough to start against Union this weekend, Toronto Head Coach Bob Bradley did say the Italian International would play some minutes in the matchup against Philadelphia.
Despite rocky form, another strong crowd is set to fill Subaru Park Saturday night
Through the first eight games of the MLS season, Union has just two wins and two draws totaling eight points so far, which currently has the team at 10th in the East. They’ve struggled to find their attacking touch, the defense has looked holey at times, and the weather has been absolutely awful, but Union fans keep showing out for their team, and that deserves some credit. It’s not surprising though, and I think perfectly explains why Union had not lost at home in over an entire season up until a 2-1 loss against Orlando in late March ended that streak.
It’s undeniable what a good home crowd can do for a team, especially in a league that already has such a strong home-field advantage, and it’s played a part in Union’s success over the last few years. It’s really easy for fans to turn on their teams amidst a bout of sour form, especially in Philadelphia. But support from the fans at home on the back of two hard-fought draws might be what this team needs to kick start their season, and it looks like tickets to Subaru Park this weekend are going quickly.
Hoping to keep the scoring touch going
Scoring goals is just one of those things that can be completely mental sometimes. A few games don’t go the way you want, the narratives and storylines start to build, and now you’re too focused on what’s going wrong with the attack that you’re losing focus in other parts of the game. But the hot streak can return just as quickly as it fades away, and Union is hoping it does just that after scoring two goals in each of the previous 2 matches.
After scoring a single-season club record 72 goals in 2023, Union has just 10 through their first eight games, currently on pace to end the season significantly lower than the one before. But as previously said, four goals in the last two games, three of which from Julian Carranza, gives fans hope that the offense is about to come alive again. Toronto’s defense hasn’t been awful this season, currently hovering around the middle of the pack in a number of statistical categories, but Union playing at Subaru Park just feels different at times with the crowd behind them, and I think everyone would enjoy another multi-goal performance
Relying on depths players, whether its starting or off the bench
As I said previously, with the midweek CCL clash against LAFC taking place next Wednesday, it’s a real possibility that we see some sort of reliance on the depth players for Union against Toronto. Whether it’s a heavily rotated lineup from the start, or players coming off the bench, I think depth players are going to play a huge role in Union’s success on Saturday night.
While I’m not ready to predict what I think the lineup might look like, I do think the likes of Damion Lowe, Jack McGlynn, Andres Perea or maybe even Quinn Sullivan will play an important role for Union over the weekend. No matter who it is, Union really need to find that “Next Man Up” mentality as long as the fixtures keep rolling in fast if they want to compete in all competitions.
Once again, I’m not really sure what to expect lineup-wise on Saturday with the CCL clash taking place midweek against LAFC in an MLS Cup rematch. After not only losing the 2022 Supporters Shield to LAFC on a tiebreaker, and the MLS Cup on Penalty Kicks to the same team a few weeks later, Union is excited at the opportunity to avenge themselves, and they’re prioritizing that above all else right now.
Because of that, I think Union will try to keep the game tight and Toronto’s scoring opportunities to a minimum, hoping to knick a game-winning goal somewhere along the way. I know we’re all desperate for a full 90-minute performance, but with rotation and CCL in mind, this Saturday’s matchup against Toronto is starting to feel like one of those “Just find a way to win and move on” type games. I’m looking for Union to snag a 1-0 win.
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