PREVIEW: Do Union have enough steam to get past Orlando?

The Philadelphia Union are back in action tonight, facing off against Orlando City SC. The two powerhouses of Group A will clash to decide who will get the better seeding for the knockout stage. This game is far from unimportant for both sides, with regular season points also being up for grabs.

As far as this tournament, the Union would face a third place finisher from Group C, D, or E, as opposed to the runner-up of Group C, who could well be New England or D.C United.

“The way this is set up in such a unique way, which is actually a good thing. You’re fully motivated to get a result in this game,” Union Head Coach Jim Curtin explained on a zoom call this weekend. “Orlando sees it as three points in the league and we see it as three points in the league. I think we’re both going to field our best teams and it’s also good from the standpoint of staying in a rhythm.”

The Union have been impressive up to this point. If we’re talking about this tournament alone, overcoming a dirty display by Inter Miami to find a vital second-half goal, refusing to let awful officiating throw them off, was a definite bright spot, and came on the back of a big win over NYCFC. Orlando City pose a very different threat though.

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Orlando’s new-look attack that’s headlined by former Manchester United star, Nani, is looking spicy to say the least. He had a goal and an assist in the first game of the tournament, but despite being kept off the score sheet against New York City, made 49 accurate passes in his second game. Nani has been key in facilitating an offensive explosion from Chris Mueller, who had 3 goals in 2 games thus far. Orlando are way more than just a one-man army and will prove to be a tricky challenge for the Union back-line.

Mark McKenzie, who has recently been linked with Celtic, will be one of two centerbacks responsible for trying to extinguish the fire, but it’s Kai Wagner and Ray Gaddis who may have the toughest jobs. With Nani challenging down the left and Ruan down the right, the floodgates will always come down the wings, putting a lot of pressure on an area of defense that hasn’t been overly consistent.

The good news for the Union is that they may have the hottest keeper in MLS right now. The bad news is that if they don’t, Orlando certainly do. Gallesse made seven saves last week against NYCFC to help keep a clean sheet, while the goal allowed by Philly was hardly on Blakes shoulders, who made 3 of his own, and 7 in the first game of the tournament, also against NYCFC.

Philadelphia will be missing tenacious midfielder Josef ‘El Brujo’ Martinez however, who was suspended for 1-game after the Inter Miami clash.

The play in question occurred in the 41st minute of the Philadelphia Union’s match vs Inter Miami. Martínez was defending a ball played into the box, when he collided with Miami’s Andrés Reyes. As “El Brujo” fell from the collision he decided to kick-out at Reyes. The play happened very fast, and because of the nature of the play, the referee missed the altercation.

Losing ‘El Brujo’ certainly stings. It’s likely that in a game with the stakes so high, they turn to a familiar face in Warren Crevalle to fill the void, although new signing Matej Oravec could get some minutes.

The Union will need to rely heavily on its attacking-midfield if they are to win this game, which means Brenden Aaronson and Sergio Santos need to be focal points. Curtin has found a nice way of supporting Przybylko, who hit a wonderstrike last week, in allowing Aaronson and Santos to drift wide and almost form a front 3 before dropping back into CAM roles when not in possession. This will put pressure on an Orlando defense that has allowed 4 goals in 4 total games (including regular season play), and whose goalkeeper rarely misses a beat.

My main worry with the Union so far is that the clear-cut chances just haven’t been taken advantage of, with a little too much hesitance in the box or trying to overcomplicate attacking moves, reflected by an expected goals average (per infogol) of 2. The fact they’ve scored 6 in 4 is reason for optimisim, but they rank towards the bottom of MLS in that metric. Aaronson’s fantastic ball through to Pryzbylko was a perfect example of how the team need to play if they are to win tonight.

Prediction:
Phialdelphia Union 1-1 Orlando City SC

I don’t see this being a high-scoring affair and the two teams should cancel each other out pretty evenly. However, there’s bound to be some end-to-end action due to the prowess that Orlando have up-front and that will spark some counter-attacking football from the Union. I have this as a score-draw, meaning that Orlando would win the division on goal difference.

Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

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