TORONTO - Recognized for its passionate supporters and capacity crowds, Toronto’s home-field advantage arrived in a different form Wednesday night.
Not only did treacherous weather grant the Reds a Canadian Cup replay, the half-completed match gifted the club some much-needed rest ahead of today’s 12:30 p.m. start against the Union.
Philadelphia comes in with a different side than the one the Reds dispatched a season ago. On that night, it took a late Dwayne De Rosario penalty to secure a 2-1 win over the expansion club at BMO Field.
A season later, Philadelphia finds itself tied for first in the Eastern Conference in close pursuit of the club’s first playoff appearance.
Defensive additions have helped the Union to an undefeated home record after conceding just seven times through 11 matches.
But points haven’t come on the road.
The Reds must exploit an overwhelming advantage in the midfield. The Union’s spine is its weakness and it forces Philadelphia to play an ugly brand of soccer — a brand that has fashioned only eight goals this season.
As long as Aron Winter’s central players match the Union’s high work rate, Tony Tchani and Julian de Guzman should have time to operate. The Reds will find success if that combination can involve Joao Plata and Nick Soolsma on the flanks — something the combo has failed to do the previous three times out.
While Philadelphia strengthened the middle of its back-line through the addition of ’keeper Faryd Mondragon and centre-half Carlos Valdes, Philadelphia’s outside backs remain suspect.
Should the Reds routinely find Plata and Soolsma in space, Toronto’s outside attackers have the quality to cause the Union’s Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey fits.
While Philadelphia doesn’t have an overwhelming number of threats going forward, the addition of former Toronto forward Carlos Ruiz has provided a lift.
An MLS poacher and irritator, Ruiz is easily taken out of his element by physical defenders who suffocate his space and frustrate him for 90 minutes.
After failing to play Vancouver target man Eric Hassli with physicality in the Canadian Cup, Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams must out-muscle the Guatemalan. As long as Toronto’s back-line prevents Ruiz from slipping into the seams he has made a career out of finding, the Reds will have success in shutting down the Union’s attack.
Following the rules
There were still complaints coming out of Vancouver’s camp 24 hours after the decision was made to replay Wednesday night’s Cup final at BMO Field.
“We just assumed we’d play 30 more minutes,” Vancouver ’keeper Jay Nolly told The Province. “Someone caught wind of (the replay rule) in the locker-room but everyone was like, ‘No way.’ ”
Winter had a more sensible approach.
“It’s a risk to play the game,” he told reporters after Wednesday’s match. “It’s still lightning and you’re speaking about people. Something can happen and then nobody will argue about rules.”
FIFA laws state that an abandoned match is to be replayed unless a competition’s rules say otherwise. Tournament officials later affirmed that Voyageurs Cup regulations are in line with FIFA standards.
While the Whitecaps looked at the occurrence as an injustice, Winter’s remarks embodied what a majority of supporters and organizers want to see — a clean Cup final played in front of a sellout on a field that isn’t under water.
Like many leagues around the world, if a match enters the late stages the result should stand. But Vancouver should decipher between abandoning a match 10 minutes from time and stopping a game before the hour mark.
Although the Whitecaps view the decision as a breach against the quality they displayed in grabbing an advantage Wednesday evening, they must realize the partiality they showed in wanting to play out the final 35 minutes in a monsoon that rendered playing the sport impossible.
Around the pitch
The Union sports one of the lowest goals-allowed averages while the Reds have conceded the second most in MLS ... But a quick breakdown shows TFC has given up fewer goals since Richard Eckersley’s arrival. In the eight matches in which the Englishman has appeared, Toronto has conceded just five times ... Coupled with six draws, that kind of resolute defending is what has the Reds close to top spot should they take maximum points today ... And in top spot sits De Rosario and New York. What kind of reception is the former TFC captain going to receive when Canada takes on Ecuador at BMO Field next weekend? Need I remind supporters of last year’s amateurish cheque-signing celebration? ... Speaking of cheques, it’s no wonder Vancouver coach Teitur Thordarson so adamantly defended finishing the Cup final. Should the Whitecaps continue struggling on the MLS side of things, lifting the Voyageurs Cup could save his job.
'We are better'
Leading up to today’s match, Ruiz says he’s confident the Union will have its way with TFC.
Ruiz told Philly.com that not only is the Union a superior side, but he looks at today’s game as three road points.
TFC should see this as bulletin-board material from a guy that did little to impress during his short stint in Toronto.
A win against the visiting Philadelphia Union would see Toronto jump up to third place in the Eastern Conference — two points out of top place for the time being.
And with a poor Kansas City side in town next weekend, the Reds could find themselves alone at the top in two weeks time.