Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union played against each other over the weekend in what was an exciting fixture in the MLS. Toronto FC had the attacking playing style, but Philadelphia Union got away with the three points, as this tactical analysis will show.

In this tactical analysis supported by statistics, we will have a look at three tactical trends during this MLS game. We will look at the attacking style of play of Toronto FC and how Philadelphia Union’s pressing with their 4-3-1-2 lead to the strong counter-attacks.

Teams

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union line-ups

Greg Vanney’s Toronto FC played with a 3-5-1-1 formation. Their five-man midfield was the key to both their defence and attack, with Michael Bradley in a defensive role. Alejandro Pozuelo played in front of the five-man midfield and aided the striker Hamilton in attacking mode.

Philadelphia Union’s coach Jim Curtin employed a different formation to this MLS game. He anticipated the attacking style of play by Toronto and fielded a defensive 4-3-1-2 formation. Haris Medunjanin played a defensive role in midfield, while Marco Fabián played a key role in attack, playing as a number ten.

Toronto FC’s attacking style of play

Toronto had one simple task: win the game against Philadelphia Union. A key element of trying to achieve that was the five-man midfield in an attacking style of play.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Toronto FC’s five-man midfield

The attacking style of play led to goalscoring opportunities. Toronto had twelve shots in this game of which five were on target. The home team wanted to attack with their wing-backs and used the flanks to attack. Of the 28 positional attacks, 25 were constructed from the flanks as you can see in the image below.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
The majority of the Toronto FC attacks were conducted from the flanks

How did Toronto FC set up these attacks? The attacking mindset is something that can be seen in the attacking mode of the home team. When in possession of the ball, the midfielders would make runs forward. This could be seen in the 14th minute when Toronto attacked.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Pozuelo has possession of the ball while Justin Morrow, Jonathan Osorio and Auro are making runs forward

Jordan Hamilton would make a run down the line to create space in the middle. In the image below Hamilton goes to the right to receive a pass, while Osorio and Morrow still made the run forward.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Hamilton makes the run forward
MLS-2018-2019-toronto-fc-vs-philadelphia-union-tactical-analysis-statistics
Morrow, Osorio and Marky Delgado are making their way forward, towards the box. Hamilton has the ball on the right flank.

Hamilton holds the ball as long as needed for the midfield to come into the space that they can do damage. Hamilton could cross the ball into the box or give the ball to any of the upcoming midfielders. In the images below you can see that on this occasion, Toronto FC chooses to go for the direct combination.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis StatisticsMLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis StatisticsMLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Toronto FC chooses to go for the combination in order to create a goalscoring opportunity.
MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Pozuelo’s combination succeeds and he passes the ball to Osorio, who shoots.

Pozuelo’s combination is successful and he passes the ball to Osorio, who has made a run into the box. His attempt is unsuccessful, but this style of attack was seen numerous times in this match on both sides of the pitch. As said above they had five shots on target, but only managed to score once. With 29 positional attacks, they failed to capitalise on their advantage and score more goals.

Philadelphia Union’s pressing

Toronto FC was strong on the ball, but Philadelphia Union won this game in Canada. Although Philadelphia had 41,57% possession of the ball. They were clinical when they had the ball and of their shots on target (five), they scored twice. A strong factor of getting attacks at Toronto FC was how they pressed with their 4-3-1-2 formation.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Fabrice Picault and Kacper Przybyłko are pressing the Toronto FC defender

Philadelphia Union pressed Toronto FC but had different ways to do so. The first one was that the two Philadelphia Union strikers were in charge of pressing the Toronto FC defenders as you can see on the image above. The pressing was not only for the two strikers, but Fabián who played behind the strikers, also pressed. The Philadelphia Union attacking players always pressed in two.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Picault presses Zavaleta while Fabián presses Delgado

Striker Picault presses Toronto’s Zavaleta and Fabián presses Delgado. In doing so, Philadelphia Union wanted to force Zavaleta to pass to Delgado and Fabián could recover the ball.

Another form of pressing that the visitors put out in this game was how the midfield pressed. This was done by the three-man midfield assisted by Fabián.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Fabián and the three-man midfield press the Toronto FC midfield

Philadelphia Union were keen on pressing the Toronto FC defence and midfield. On occasions they were successful and they could be dangerous from the counter-attacks that followed. During this game, Philadelphia Union had ten counter-attacks. One of them was very successful in the 68th minute, which led to the 1-2 by Jamiro Monteiro.

MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Philadelphia Union got the ball in defence after a Toronto FC attack
MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Monteiro got the ball on the left side of the pitch while Picault makes his run forward
MLS 2018/19: Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis Statistics
Picault gets the ball from Monteiro, while Monteiro makes a run into the box. In the end, he gets the ball back from Monteiro and scores the 1-2.

Eventually, it was Philadelphia Union that made the most of their counter-attacking football and managed to get the winner through Monteiro.

Final thoughts

The MLS has just only really begun, but it’s a very important stage in the competition. Toronto looked very comfortable in their style of play although they conceded early on in the game. Their attacking style of play led them to big opportunities, but they couldn’t convert them while Philadelphia did exactly that in the 69th minute. Philadelphia Union’s effective play meant that they got away with the three points.


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Marc Lamberts

My name is Marc Lamberts. Freelance journalist and Arts & Culture student. Football fanatic. Love 3-5-2. UEFA C. 27. Dutch.
Marc Lamberts