I called MLS earlier this season “the great rush to the middle” and historically it always has been this way. As the seasons wear on what usually happens is the gaps between clubs in the standings get closer and closer. In a salary cap league like MLS this is most likely going to be a trend that continues.

With that in mind the result tomorrow against the Philadelphia Union is going to be absolutely key in my opinion in deciding if TFC is going to be a real playoff contender or not as the second half of the season gets underway. Road points are usually hard to come by in this league, and particularly so for TFC historically. When the opportunity comes to play a club who is on three days rest (they played a friendly against Glasgow Celtic midweek) who also happen to be an expansion team, you simply can’t pass up the chance to get the full three points.

As I did last Friday I thought a quick look at some of the numbers might be a good way to set the table for the game tomorrow afternoon.

– Tomorrow will be the first time TFC will have seen Referee Ramon Hernandez since 2008. He officiated a loss away in DC in 2007 and a loss to Red Bulls in 2008. He has never been to BMO Field to officiate a game.

– Philadelphia has only managed three wins so far this season, and has given up an average of almost two goals per game. They have only been able to score more than once in a match on three occasions.

– TFC has a goals against average of just slightly over one per game. Philly has a goals against average of just under two. Philly has yet to record a clean sheet this season.

– With the completion of their home stadium coming after the start of the season, the Union have only played four home matches to date (three in the new ground). At home they are a respectable 2-1-1, and have scored eight goals for, while conceding six.

– TFC’s last away match was at the end of May in San Jose where the club recorded a resounding 3-1 road win.

– Oddly, since 2008, when TFC was technically no longer an expansion side, facing new teams in their expansion seasons Toronto has only won one match… this season against Philly.

– The Union, with a couple of exceptions, played just about their best starting XI against Glasgow Celtic this past Wednesday evening. Leading Union scorer Sebastien Le Toux scored the only goal for Philly in a 1-nil victory. TFC’s top players will be considerably more rested than the Union players will be with three additional days rest.

– Coming back from suspension Julian De Guzman still needs to be on his P’s and Q’s. He is one yellow card away from yet another disciplinary suspension. Maksim “The Mad Russian” Usanov is also one yellow card away from a one game involuntary holiday as well.

– The accolades keep coming in for TFC shot stopper Stefan Frei. On top of the MLS save of the week honour he earned this week, his numbers to date this season are exemplary. Six shutouts and 55 saves (second tops in the league) in 14 games played are tremendous numbers. Why he did not get the honour to go the All Star Game is beyond me. Check out the save below courtesy of TFC-TV.

Anything less than the full three points however earned tomorrow will be a huge disappointment. Preki has already said that newly signed striker Mista will likely not start in Philly as he works to get his game fitness. I would be shocked however if we do not see him at some point tomorrow afternoon, particularly if the game is in doubt late on. Recently signed striker Maicon Santos will likely partner Chad Barrett in attack with De Rosario sliding in behind them. Martin Saric, who played very well in the first half of the victory over Colorado last Saturday, is out due to injury so the return of Julian De Guzman is a welcome sight indeed.

So there you have it. Toronto plays a team in the Union on short rest that has yet to record a clean sheet in its short history. They have played competitive at home but even there Philly has conceded goals and given visitors the chance to take points. Toronto has already drawn away at the Galaxy and won at San Jose so the belief in their ability to win away under tough circumstances should be sound. I think a 2-0 or even 3-1 TFC win is not outside the realm of possibility based on current form and how the match-up looks to me.

Speaking of disappointments I must once again call out the TFC front office for continuing to choose to intentionally keep their fans somewhat in the dark. After not getting a direct answer last week I had the chance today to directly ask a TFC staffer if recently signed player Mista was signed under the designated player rule. TFC PR contact Michelle Lissell confirmed with me directly in a conversation this afternoon that Mista is indeed a Designated Player. She told me directly that Mista’s contract fills in her words “…a DP slot for the rest of the season…”. I have since been able to find out through sources outside the club that Mista is earning somewhere around $100,000 per month for the rest of this season, when his contract expires. And as I posted earlier this week this is the first time in the history of Major League Soccer that a club has chosen not to inform fans directly that a player was signed under this rule when signed. Until Michelle spoke with yours truly today, there has been no specific mention or conformation from the club that Mista is the teams second designated player. There is no competitive advantage in keeping this kind of information close to the vest so one has to wonder what the motive would be for keeping it on the down low? One could argue that perhaps TFC wants to just keep the fan speculation to a minimum and see what Mista does for the rest of 2010. If he for example goes gangbusters and is the player we all hope he might be then they can splash out a longer term DP deal for him in the off season and promote him as a player with a good MLS track record. If he is a bust they can let him go at the end of the look at perhaps bringing in a more “sexy” signing for 2011.

Some fans have speculated that a player like Mista is not the “sexy” DP signing that a Thierry Henry for example is and that it would not be wise to promote Mista as such considering that MLSE knew well in advance that Henry was on his way to New York. One TFC fan on a supporters group board said it this way:

“…If MLSE announced Mista as a DP there would have been way more attention paid to the fact that we chose a ‘no-name’ DP …especially with the spotlight on New York and their new fancy, world renowned signing…”

That is definitely a possibility. I am unsure if I agree with it, but in the absence of facts it is at least possible.

I have been saying for a while now that a big name DP signing is not the only approach to take. If a player that TFC could not afford under normal circumstances can come in and fill a need under the DP rules then that is good enough for me. If the stadium was half empty then a bigger name might be what is needed, however that is not a big issue yet for Toronto FC. If Mista scores the same number of goals as Henry does then of course even better. We all will see in due course.

Where I feel most disappointed is that TFC feels that it is in their best interest to not be as clear with their fans as they could be. Confirming Mista’s DP status with a stubborn blogger on a Friday afternoon is a far cry from announcing a player as a DP when he is introduced to the fans. Toronto FC for whatever reason is deliberately choosing not to promote him as such, for the first time in league history mind you. We will see at the end of the season whether Mista was a good gamble or not. We will also see if Thierry Henry was a good signing as well. The results will speak for themselves, as they always do.

But not being forthright with the fans up front in some attempt to lower fan expectations or cover themselves from criticism if Mista disappoints is disrespectful at best and dishonest at worst.


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