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Sunday represents Decision Day in Major League Soccer. And if Toronto FC fails to rise to the task, it will be blown out by a highly motivated Philadelphia Union team at Subaru Park.
“On the last day of the season, coming off a loss, with all the excitement that they have for the playoffs, they’re going to be flying,” TFC coach Bob Bradley said of his Eastern Conference rivals. “They’ve had a great season. They’re undefeated at home, they lost 4-0 in the last game to Charlotte, and in order to ensure themselves being in first place, they need to win.”
In the final regular-season match of the season for both clubs, Philly clinches the coveted first-place slot in the East with a win against the Reds. A loss to Toronto, and a CF Montreal victory on Sunday against host Inter Miami would propel the Quebecers into first-place. The Reds will be doing their Canadian arch-rivals a favour if they can secure three points from Philadelphia
“(Montreal) has had a good season,” said TFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. “I have some good friends on that team and Canadian teammates that have had conversations with me just about how important their game is. At the end of the day, we want to win and if that means us winning helps Montreal, lucky for them. But I don’t think in the back of our mind it’s being like: ‘Let’s win this game for Montreal.’ We want to win a game for TFC and get back to that good feeling before we have this big (off-season) break.”
The Reds, who are out of playoff contention, are essentially playing for pride and, for some players, to perhaps demonstrate to the coaching staff and front office that they deserve to come back next season because, for sure, there are going to be some big changes to the roster for the 2023 season. Finishing second-last and missing the post-season for a second season is a blot on what has been a very successful run over the past few years for TFC.
Bradley admitted that it’s going to be a challenge to get his club ready to match the intensity they expect from Philly on Sunday afternoon.
“We need to have enough guys that are ready to step up and compete,” he said. “If you end up with a few too many guys that have already packed it in for the season on the field, we’re in for a really rough day. And so part of the demand in training this last week (to) challenge them in training and you see which guys seem to be still be alive and which guys seem to not be with you all the way.”
The Union (18W 5L 10D) are undefeated at home this season (W11 L5), outscoring opponents 45-9, including 34-4 in the last seven games The 34 goals and plus-30 goal differential are both the most in any span of seven home games in MLS history. What will make Bradley’s job even more difficult on Sunday is the fact that again he will be without some key players.
Veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio — the club’s career appearance leader (318) — is out with “neurological dysfunction” and may have played his final game with TFC as the Brampton native becomes a free agent at the end of the season. The club’s there Italian players — Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito — are all questionable for Sunday’s game and that, of course, would be a major blow to the team’s attack. TFC (9W 17L 7D) has scored 19 goals since the arrival of the Italian trio in early August. Of those 19 goals, 14 have been scored by one of the three, while Bernardeschi has recorded an assist on one of the other five. Also out of Sunday’s match is winger Richie Laryea, who is suspended.
On the upside, TFC handed the Union one of its five losses this season, a 2-1 victory at BMO Field on April 16. However, the last two meetings between the clubs at Subaru Park ended in a pair of Philadelphia wins by an aggregate score of 8-0.
“They’re a Red Bull-type team — pressing, a little bit of chaos, going forward very quickly,” said Bradley of the Union. “You can’t show up there and just think that it’s going to be an easy game where you can slow things down and control the pace of the game. It’s going to go fast. And the expectation is that we can get the right group on the field and have a good way to go after things.
“They have their way of playing,” the TFC coach added. “They’re a team that plays off of loose balls and second balls. They’re not a team that’s worried too much about possession. They’re a team that’s direct in certain moments.
“(Mikael) Uhre and (Julián) Carranza have had really good years,” said Bradley of the Union forward tandem. “They’re dangerous. They have good movement. (Dániel) Gazdag has had an excellent year playing underneath them. Their system they all understand. Andre Blake continues to be important, one of the best goalkeepers in the league, makes important saves.”
The Union may also be without some key players. Left back Kai Wagner is out on suspension. Captain Ale Bedoya missed the Charlotte game with a ‘minor injury’.
Sunday’s match at Subaru will show which TFC players have packed it in for the season and which are still motivated.
“It’s a huge way to end the season on a high note going into the off-season and continuing to progress in the way we want and to prepare properly for next year,” said Kaye.
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