A CLASH OF TWO SUR­PRIS­ING TEAMS

Both Moor and Alti­dore set to re­turn Satur­day for match against Philadel­phia

The Sudbury Star - - SPORTS - STEVE BUFFERY SBuf­[email protected]­media.com Twit­ter @Beez­er­sun

It was March 2 on a cold, damp, mis­er­able af­ter­noon at Talen En­ergy Sta­dium in Ch­ester, Pa., when Toronto FC put the boots to host Philadel­phia, leav­ing town with an im­pres­sive 3-1 road vic­tory to start the MLS reg­u­lar sea­son.

And TFC won that match with­out yet-to-be-signed at­tack­ing mid­fielder Ale­jan­dro Pozuelo and star for­ward Jozy Alti­dore, who was still re­cov­er­ing from off-sea­son an­kle surgery.

Eight days later, the Union went on to lose their se­cond match, 2-0 at Sport­ing Kansas City. But what’s the ex­pres­sion? “From hum­ble be­gin­nings, come great things”? Since open­ing with a pair of losses, the Union have gone on a tear, pick­ing up points in eight of their next nine games, in­clud­ing a 6-1 drub­bing over the New Eng­land Rev­o­lu­tion last Satur­day. The re­nascent Union (6-3-2) sit tied in first in the East­ern Con­fer­ence as they pre­pare to face TFC (5-3-1) on Satur­day af­ter­noon at BMO Field — a clash of two of the more sur­pris­ing teams in the MLS this sea­son.

“They’re a team play­ing with a lot of con­fi­dence,” said vet­eran Toronto de­fender Drew Moor. “They like to play di­rect. They like to run play­ers out of mid­field in be­hind. (Haris) Me­dun­janin when he gets on the ball can play a very nice ball with his left foot. They’ve got some pace. I think if we can match their in­ten­sity early and keep them quiet and take the game to them as the game goes on, I think we’ll give our­selves a chance.”

The good news for TFC: Both Moor, who missed the last five games be­cause of an Ad­duc­tor in­jury fol­lowed by calf tight­ness, and Alti­dore, who missed the last three with a ham­string strain, are prob­a­ble for Satur­day’s match. The Reds clearly miss vet­eran cen­tre back Moor when he’s not in the lineup. All-time dur­ing his ca­reer with Toronto, TFC has 32 wins, 17 losses and 20 draws with Moor in the lineup. With him out, they have gone 17-18-7.

Van­ney made whole­sale changes to his start­ing XI in a 2-0 loss in Atlanta on Wed­nes­day to give his reg­u­lars a rest. But the re­sult wasn’t pos­i­tive. Alti­dore has five goals in as many games. In his place Van­ney started Jor­dan Hamil­ton for two and then 19-year-old Ayo Aki­nola on Wed­nes­day and nei­ther was been able to cre­ate much of any­thing.

Philly has great bal­ance on the at­tack with seven play­ers record­ing two goals or more, though lead­ing scorer David Ac­cam was traded to Colum­bus on Wed­nes­day for al­lo­ca­tion money and an In­ter­na­tional ros­ter spot. The Reds have also demon­strated bal­ance in their at­tack, with four play­ers tal­ly­ing three goals or more. But the most im­pres­sive as­pect of Philadel­phia’s game is the way they’ve de­fended, al­low­ing only 11 goals in as many matches. The Union’s goal dif­fer­en­tial of plus 10 is the se­cond best in the MLS, be­hind Los An­ge­les F.C. (18).

One can bet Philadel­phia coach Jim Curtin has de­vised a plan to try to min­i­mize Pozuelo’s abil­ity to cre­ate chances, as Atlanta United did on Wed­nes­day. Pozuelo seemed to have a player on top of him a nanosec­ond af­ter get­ting the ball and his ex­traor­di­nary abil­ity to set up the at­tack was sti­fled. Van­ney said it’s all part of Pozuelo, who has recorded four goals and six as­sist in his first seven MLS matches, con­tin­u­ing to ad­just to a new, very phys­i­cal league.

“He’s go­ing to get that all the time, es­pe­cially if he takes ex­tra touches and he wants to try to make things hap­pen in­di­vid­u­ally,” said Van­ney. “If the ball moves fast in this league, he’s go­ing to make teams pay. But this league is a phys­i­cal league too, so if you take a lot of ex­tra touches, peo­ple are go­ing to be phys­i­cal with you (and) a lot of times they prob­a­bly won’t get called. A lot of things in this league can get by that maybe don’t get by in Euro­pean leagues. And so I think there’s that bal­ance of find­ing the mo­ments to make a big play and find­ing the mo­ments to just keep the ball mov­ing and let the ag­gres­sive­ness of the op­po­si­tion some­times work against them. Be­cause the ball moves than faster than they do.

“I think (on Wed­nes­day in Atlanta) with the way the game was go­ing, I felt like (Pozuelo) felt he needed to make a play or a cou­ple of plays in­side the game,” the coach con­tin­ued. “Maybe a cou­ple of ex­tra touches here or there al­lowed them to be phys­i­cal with him, and that turned into some tran­si­tions the other way. It’s noth­ing that was his fault in terms of the out­come of the game. I think he was try­ing to im­pact the game in a pos­i­tive way.”

TED S. WAR­REN/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Toronto FC for­ward Jozy Alti­dore heads the ball past Seat­tle Sounders de­fender Chad Mar­shall in April. Alti­dore, who missed the last three games with a ham­string strain, is prob­a­ble for Satur­day’s match.

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