It’s the third match in seven days for the Philadelphia Union, but at least the opponent is less formidable than the schedule. The Union, coming-off a 5-3 drubbing in Montreal last weekend and a 2-1 victory over second tier Ocean City in Match 1 of this year’s Lamar Hunt Cup drive on Tuesday, head to Toronto ( Sat., 6 p.m., TCN) to play a club that’s spent all season near the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference. Toronto FC’s record is a woeful 1-7-4. They’re in 9th place.
The Union, meanwhile, is a club in need of a victory. It’s not that the season is winding down and chances for points are dwindling. But at 5-5-3 and with only a 2-point advantage over Columbus in the Eastern Conference play-off race, Philadelphia can ill-afford bad play right now.
And it’s never easy in the MLS, especially if you’re Philadelphia. Union fans will recall that Toronto proved a handful in the clubs’ previous match, a 1-1 draw at PPL Park on April 13. It took a late header by Jack McInerney to earn the point. Fans may also recall the first half of the contest being marred by an over-zealous official who disrupted flow by blowing the whistle nearly every time players touched each other. Once he backed-off, though, the Union controlled much of the action and almost won. A second late goal was waved-off on what some thought was a questionable call against McInerney for interfering with the goalie as he knocked-in a loose ball. Toronto’s big scoring threat is still Robert Earnshaw (5 goals), who got the Canadian’s only tally in that first meeting with the Union, although Earnshaw has not found the net since.
The importance of the match is magnified because next Wednesday, Philadelphia is back home for a key tangle with Columbus, which has refused to go away, actually making-up ground on Philadelphia over the last couple of weeks after falling far behind. Unless the Union wins in Toronto, the Wednesday night showdown at PPL will be a battle for 5th place (the final play-off spot). The Union also has to be careful not to fall too far behind the others ahead of them; in recent weeks, the pack is loosening and a couple teams (New York and Montreal) appear ready for a sprint.
McINERNEY BACK AT IT: Union forward Jack McInerney takes the pitch in Ontario with a share of the league goal lead (9) with Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio who made Union fans simmer last weekend by out-scoring the Union striker 3-1 to pull even. McInerney will face a Toronto defense this weekend that’s surrendered 18 goals in 12 games. Di Vaio must try his luck against Sporting Kansas City which has given up well less than a goal a game this season. Advantage: McInerney.
LOOKING AHEAD: After the Wednesday night clash with Columbus, the Union has a couple of friendlies and another Cup match; the club doesn’t get back to league play until June 23rd. But that portion of the schedule gets off with a bang. The Union is home against beast of the east New York, followed by a pair of matches against two of the Western Conference’s better clubs, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake.