Photo: Paul Rudderow
Who: Philadelphia Union (6th place, 2 points, 0-0-2) vs. Orlando City SC (5th place, 3 points, 1-0-0)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
When: Saturday, March 18 at 7:30 pm
Watch: TCN-Phi, MLS Live, WRDQ-27
Whistle: Fotis Pazakos; C.J. Morgante and Danny Thornberry; Silviu Petrescu
Despite two solid performances to start the season, Philadelphia Union will be seeking their first victory in quite some time. Dating back to last season, Philly is winless in their last nine league games.
Jim Curtin’s men will look to take three points as they travel to Orlando, a place they have never lost. Conversely, the Union have yet to win there either. In two trips to the warmer pastures of central Florida, Philadelphia has earned two points.
Orlando City SC opened their season and a marvelous new stadium with a 1-0 victory over New York City FC. However unconvincing it may have been to the neutral eye (Orlando mustered one shot in the second half), the men in purple stood stout defensively. In the process, however, they lost their talisman, Kaká.
Orlando had an unexpected week off when frigid weather resulted in the postponement of their match in New England. If you listen closely, you can hear fans in Minnesota chuckling to themselves.
Scouting Report: Orlando City SC
At the 10-minute of their season opener, Orlando City lost their captain. The Brazilian international and former Ballon d’Or winner will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury.
Traditionally, Orlando coach Jason Kreis has shown a preference for a 4-4-2 formation, playing Kaká in a wide position while allowing the veteran freedom to drift around the pitch. Don’t be surprised if Kreis adapts to a 4-2-3-1.
Kreis will have to answer the question of how to replace his team’s creative inspiration. There is no like for like replacement for someone of this caliber. Thus, expect a fluid and diverse midfield shape predicated on overlapping movement. There is one player, however, who will carry heavier burden.
To serve as the spark, Orlando will turn to Matias Perez Garcia. He is a 5-5 Argentinean attacking midfielder, technical and fast. The 32-year-old has played on the right side Orlando’s midfield. Now, Garcia will have to play centrally, in his preferred position. From 2012-2014, he tallied 16 goals and 10 assists playing for Tigre in the Argentine Primera División. Since joining MLS in 2014 with the San Jose Earthquakes, Garcia has only managed three goals and eight assists.
A remade defense
Orlando’s Achilles’ heel last season was a porous defense. In their first game of 2017, they featured a back line with three new starters.
Donny Toia was brought in from Montreal to play left back.
In the center, Orlando made their most significant changes. Jonathan Spector, playing in Birmingham last season, was brought in to mend the biggest reason the team has failed to make a postseason appearance. He is a solid player, leaving flair to others. In opening week, Spector led the league with 13 clearances and committed only one foul. If he can development a partnership with 24-year-old José Aja, Orlando will be improved.
The most surprising feature of Kreis’ opening day lineup was his choice for right back. Will Johnson was acquired to solidify the Orlando’s midfield. Instead, the coach deployed him as a fullback. It brings a comparison to mind. James Milner, through necessity, was moved to fullback for Liverpool. Both players are hard-working and define professionalism. Milner excelled at the new position. While Johnson performed well in his debut, expect the Union to test the less-than-battle-tested right back.
- Injury report: Out – Tony Rocha (M, hamstring), Rafael Ramos (D, hamstring), Kevin Alston (D, hamstring), Kaká (M, hamstring)
- Suspensions: None.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union
On the attacking foot
Despite keeping a clean-sheet, Orlando can largely thank their “man of the match,” Joe Bendik. The newly-resigned goalkeeper made six saves, including MLS Save of the Week. New York City FC registered 14 shot attempts.
The Union do not have the goal scoring ability of a team featuring David Villa, but they are not impotent. Philadelphia relies on offensive contributions from multiple sources. They scored two goals in open play last week and had their moments in Vancouver.
Against Orlando, the Union will test their much improved depth again. Jay Simpson, after scoring his first goal for his new club, left with a rib injury last match. His replacement, C.J. Sapong, found the net for himself.
It is still unique seeing Sapong come off the bench after the striker started game after game after game last year. This was in spite of a brutal stretch to end last season. With the goal, C.J. broke a drought dating back to August 13. With the monkey off his back, he would like to create a more positive streak.
Fabian Herbers may have started this game even if Ilsinho was healthy. It’s a road game where Curtin will count on his winger to contribute defensively. After last week, the coach may expect the German to build upon a solid performance. If Ilsinho makes the bench, expect him to get his first minutes of 2017 after Herbers puts in a dogged shift.
A key battle will be between Chris Pontius and Will Johnson. Philadelphia has often sought to play aerial balls to the winger. He has excelled. Expect Orlando to have Aja, who is 6-4, to offer help. Philly’s goal will be to isolate Pontius on the “unproven” right back.
Controlling the midfield
The Philadelphia Union, based on early season performances, should have the edge in the midfield battle. Despite playing at home, New York City dominated possession with 68%.
Featuring a trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, and Derrick Jones, the visitors can exploit Orlando in the center of the field. If Jones and Medunjanin continue their stellar play, they can contain Garcia.
At the base of the midfield, Kreis will lean towards Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco. With the absence of Kaká, expect Nocerino to venture forward while his partner shields the defense.
While the Italian is a known quantity, he has not been a game-changing player in Orlando. Moreso, his defensive work rate can be suspect. If he gets caught too far up the field, look for Bedoya to exploit the space behind with intelligent runs. With Medunjanin’s vision, there will be opportunities to counter.
- Injury Report: Out – Joshua Yaro (D, shoulder), Maurice Edu (M, ankle/tibia); Questionable – Charlie Davies (F, ankle), Ilsinho (M, hamstring), Tribbett (D, achilles). No designation – Simpson (F, ribs)
- Suspensions: None.
Player to watch/key matchup
Cyle Larin has yet to be mentioned. Even when Kaká is on the field, the Canadian striker is Orlando’s best player. In his first two seasons in MLS, Larin found the net 31 times. In the opening game, he made it 32.
Philadelphia will look to Richie Marquez and Oguchi Onyewu to contain him. So far, Philadelphia’s center back pairing has exceeded expectations. They have yet to concede a goal in open play. The pair has been positionally sound.
One of Larin’s best traits is his heading ability. Onyewu, and to a lesser extent Marquez, also excel in the air. Marquez will need to use his pace to cover the runs, especially as Giles Barnes and Carlos Rivas threaten the area themselves.
Larin is a premier talent. Philadelphia may only need to deal with him for one more season. Enjoy this guy while you can.
Union win 2-1. There is always the danger of the backup quarterback effect. Every player elevates his game to compensate for the star that’s missing. Orlando has the talent to do just this. Will they? No.
The Union’s midfield has shown every bit capable of handling an attacking midfielder who has yet to prove himself in MLS. Look for Bedoya to get his first goal with an intelligent run and maybe Pontius to convert after achieving another dangerous position, while Larin heads in a set piece but doesn’t do enough to overcome the Union.