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article imagePhiladelphia torments TFC in transition & exploit a flawed system

By Tyrrell Meertins     Sep 6, 2014 in Sports
Toronto FC’s third defeat in seven days has created fear for a fan base praying to see their club make its first playoff appearance in franchise history.
And while it’s harsh to critique Greg Vanney’s ephemeral tenure with the Canadian club, stylistically, very little has changed in their overall approach.
Here, Vanney persisted with Ryan Nelsen's ineffective 4-4-2, pushing Dominic Oduro and Dwayne De Rosario to the flanks, while the returning Luke Moore started alongside Gilberto. Despite a positive opening few minutes, the Reds fell behind in the seventh minute to a Conor Casey opener.
While the defensive meltdowns on both goals shouldn’t be overlooked, this was another display that signified TFC’s susceptibility in a 4-4-2. Collen Warner and Michael Bradley were constantly overloaded and bypassed in midfield due to the movement of the interchanging attacking trio, as the duo struggled to influence the match in the final third.
Ultimately, both goals stemmed from the Union’s quick transitional attacks. Cristian Maidana received Sebastien Le Toux’s pass behind TFC’s midfield duo and drove towards the box to place his side in a goal-scoring position; coincidentally, it was the 27-year-old’s lateral pass to the onrushing Sheanon Williams – as Dominic Oduro was caught out of position in a central position – that led to Casey’s opener.
At times it was 4v2 in midfield, as there was always space for the Union players to receive the ball. Maidana and Vincent Nogueira combined on several occasions to bypass TFC’s midfield, completing the most passes and achieving the highest success rate for the away side. The buildup to Andrew Wenger’s goal resulted in a few corners that TFC failed to clear, but it was Nogueira’s unmarked slalom in transition that placed the away side in that position.
Likewise, with TFC dominating possession, and pushing forward for an equalizer, the away side defended superbly as a unit and broke into vacant space on the counter. Gilberto worked hard to chase loose balls but conceded possession cheaply, while Moore was reluctant to drop deep to link play.
Where the Union were devastating on the counter, the Reds were contrastingly abject in possession. The one noticeable change in Vanney’s system is the aim to push full-backs forward at every opportunity to create overloads. Nick Hagglund and Mark Bloom surged forward throughout the match, and although a few good deliveries were played – the latter also hit the post – their proactive running left space in wide areas for the Union to exploit.
Jim Curtin’s side sat off the TFC midfield, dropping into two banks of four with the ball, with the midfield four sitting narrow to congest spaces in central areas. Maidana pushed forward to press Bradley when he dropped deeper to help the centre-backs build attacks, but the American’s attempt to split the defenders was futile.
TFC struggled to create chances throughout the match, as there was no cohesion or link between midfield and attack, while minimal passing options were available when space was presented to penetrate on the counter. The front four didn’t vary their movement in the final third – Oduro's brief impact saw the Ghanaian move into half space in the opening minutes to win free kicks in dangerous positions – and there were no options for Bradley or the centre-backs to play passes into.
Maidana and Nogueira continued to receive the ball between the lines and bypass the TFC midfield in the second half, but their threat diminished when the away side dropped deeper into their half. Substitutes Kyle Bekker offered vertical passing, whereas Jackson enjoyed a lively appearance with his direct threat, but TFC couldn’t get behind the Union back-line.
"I'm happy with the guys' performance," Curtin said.
"Toronto is a very good team who are missing some pieces right now and we are a little bit fortunate to get them at the time we did."
Still, shoddy defending has seen TFC concede 29 goals in their last 15 games, and in that time only one clean sheet has been recorded. The Union tormented the Reds on the break, and was equally impressive without the ball – due to the languid displays of Gilberto and Moore – thus meriting maximum points.
“We started the year off as a team that was tough to score against. Now, we’re giving up two goals a game. This can’t continue," said Bloom.
With eight games remaining, TFC’s season is headed down the wrong path, as for the umpteenth time this season the Reds’ preferred 4-4-2 was exploited.
More about Toronto FC, Mls, Philadelphia Union, Ryan Nelsen, Greg Vanney
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