Pressure's on Toronto, say Philadelphia Union: "Let's go spoil something"

CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC are both seeking their first-ever victory in the MLS Cup Playoffs heading into Wednesday’s Knockout Round game at BMO Field (7:30 pm ET, ESPN2, UniMas, TSN2).

But considering the expectations facing the clubs, the Union left for Toronto with the comforting belief that all of the pressure lies with the home team.

“We’d love to spoil the party,” Union winger Chris Pontius said. “The pressure’s on them to beat us. So let’s go spoil something up there.”

Philly head coach Jim Curtin agreed with that assessment, saying that his players “should be loose” facing a legitimate MLS Cup contender on the road, adding that there’s “nothing to lose.”

Curtin also took solace in the fact that, during Philly’s rough seven-game winless slide to end the regular season, they went to Toronto and battled them to a tough 1-1 draw on Sept. 24 — a game many of Philly’s players felt they deserved to win.

“If you look at the first 25, 30 minutes of that game, it could be 2-0 or 3-0 for us,” Pontius said. “If we could have put away those chances, that game becomes a bit different. We’ll obviously look at that game tape the last time we played them and go to business.”

To be fair, Toronto was playing without reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco in that game. And Giovinco has owned the Union in his MLS career, scoring all four times he’s faced them, most recently in Toronto’s 3-1 win over Philly on Aug. 20.

But the Union were also without their top playmaker, Tranquillo Barnetta, in their last matchup vs. Toronto, which led to them moving Alejandro Bedoya to the No. 10 position and deploying Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle in a double-pivot defensive midfield.

And even though the lineup will likely look different Wednesday with Bedoya back at the No. 8, the Union’s new Designated Player is prepared to once again do a lot of the dirty work to try to slow down his US national team colleague, Toronto FC standout Michael Bradley.

“I don’t think it’s a secret to anybody that a team’s gameplan should be to create problems [for Bradley] because he’s a guy that starts all the attacks and starts the game for them,” said Bedoya, whose only MLS goal came against Toronto. “So we have to break them up and stress him and annoy him, piss him off and try to get him not as many balls as possible. I think we were able to do that in Toronto [last time] and we’re going to be looking to do that again.”

The Union are also keenly aware of the dynamic threat of Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, a duo that tormented Philly center back Ken Tribbett in the August matchup at Talen Energy Stadium.

But Curtin is confident that Tribbett — who will get the start with Joshua Yaro out with an MLS strain — has learned from that experience and will get enough help from his teammates along the backline to slow down Toronto’s star-studded attack.

“In a young defender’s career, this is a big test for him,” Curtin said. “And it’s one he has the tools and skillset to come out successful. But he’ll need everyone around him doing their part as well.

“A lot of our guys have never been in a playoff game," the Union coach added. "I hope they rise to the occasion, and I’m confident they will. It’s a great experience for this club. This doesn’t happen every year.”