5 Things to Watch Ahead of Philadelphia Union vs Orlando City SC

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union welcomes Orlando City SC to Subaru Park this weekend for a battle between two teams with aspirations to finish top of the Eastern Conference. The two teams have several similarities, with successful 2022 seasons leading to CONCACAF Champions League participation this season (although after a first-round loss on away goals to Mexican side Tigres, Orlando no longer has to worry about that).

5 Things to Watch Union vs Orlando City

Unfortunately, they’ve also both gotten off to slow starts in league play, perhaps in part because of the distraction of continental competition. After a brutal loss at Montreal last weekend, the Union will look to bounce back and maintain their impeccable home form. Here are five things to watch in this weekend’s matchup.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Whose Lineup is it Anyway?

Throughout the year, there are “International Breaks,” which are essentially official, FIFA-sanctioned periods for national teams to get together and play either friendlies or one of the various international competitions held in each region. Most leagues around the world pause during these breaks, as teams are missing key players and they want to avoid having those absences affect results.

MLS is not like most leagues.

Both the Union and Orlando City will be missing key players in different parts of the field. Andre Blake’s injury and Julián Carranza’s brutally timed suspension for getting sent off against Montreal add to the list of Union absentees. While the team’s first-choice defense will remain intact, there will be shuffling in both midfield and particularly in attack. This figures to be a big test of the depth Philadelphia accumulated in the offseason.

Jimmy King covers the lineup woes, including a possible formation change, in more depth here:

Stay On Target: Home Wins Record in Sight

A win for the boys in blue this weekend would make it twelve home wins in a row, equaling the league record set by San Jose. The last time the Union played a league match at Subaru Park, they put in a lackluster performance and only just snatched a victory courtesy of a Joaquín Torres goal in the 90th minute.

They’ll be eager to show an improvement in front of their home fans, despite a depleted lineup. Everyone involved with the team loves to talk about the energy they draw from the home crowd, and they’ll need every bit of it if they want to draw even with San Jose’s record.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Uhre Off the Mark

One positive takeaway from the Montreal match was striker Mikael Uhre bagging his first (and second) goal of the season. I predicted he would get a brace against Chicago the week before; clearly, the temporal settings on my prediction meter need some work. With fellow attackers Carranza and Dániel Gazdag (international duty with Hungary) missing, the Union will hope last week’s performance gave Uhre the confidence to find the back of the net again.

Depending on the formation Philly goes with, he will most likely either be partnered by the unproven Chris Donovan or lead the line on his own. As the only proven goalscorer available, Uhre’s form will play a huge role in determining the outcome of this game. Let’s hope he takes advantage of this opportunity to jump ahead of his fellow attackers in the Union’s goalscoring charts.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Can the Defense Bounce Back?

As frustrating as the circumstances around the loss last week were, not everything can be blamed on refereeing incompetence. The defending on both Montreal’s equalizer and game-winner was shambolic. After a storming game spent flying up and down the right side of the field against Chicago the week before, Olivier Mbaizo came back down to earth hard, and he was culpable in both goals. 

The entire defense felt chaotic and unorganized while trying to defend the lead, and you have to wonder how much comes down to missing Andre Blake in goal. There’s a level of comfort and stability that goes along with having a world-class goalkeeper behind you, and the Union’s defense has struggled at times to cope without him. That being said, 18,500+ screaming fans aren’t the worst substitute in the world, and the defense will look to feed off that energy to earn backup keeper Joe Bendik a shutout.

CHESTER, PA – DECEMBER 05: A Philadelphia Union Fan holds up a “Believe” sign during the first half of the Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs match between New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union on December 5, 2021, at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Possible Debuts

The Union Academy to first team pipeline (by way of Union II) continues this season, with 22-year-old midfielder Jeremy Rafanello (who actually signed for the first team last August, but has mostly stayed with Union II) and 17-year-old forward Nelson Pierre looking to earn some minutes this season. While most of their opportunities will probably come in competitions like the US Open Cup, the absences this weekend mean they have a chance to make their debuts.

A lot will depend on the scoreline and situation in the second half, but both players will be eager to show they can make an impact. With Mikael Uhre still not proving he can last a full 90 minutes, I think Pierre is the more likely of the two to see the field. As always, fans will be eager to see what the two Homegrown players can do.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Prediction

Once again the Union will start slow (I’ll keep saying this until they prove otherwise), and it will be a disjointed game all around as both teams get to grips with the forced rotation in their lineups. I think Philly wins it with goals off the bench from Andrés Perea and Nelson Pierre (a debut goal!), keeping the shutout for Bendik and getting the 2-0 win at home.

Want even more on the Union’s match against Orlando? Check out Justin Friedberg‘s match preview:

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union & Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire