The Union are off to a 2-2-0 start after winning only 10 games in 2015. Not that the Lions had an easy time of it with Philly last year. Orlando City has yet to score a goal against the Union in Major League Soccer, drawing 0-0 at home last season and losing 1-0 on the road in the 2015 season finale. Neither team has a goal in the run of play in the series, with the Union bagging a penalty goal at home as the only tally between the two sides over the first two meetings.
The Lions finally got Kaká back on Sunday and in less than half an hour lost Cyle Larin to a hamstring injury. By halftime, center back Tommy Redding had picked up a knock in a clash of heads. So perhaps Orlando is simply never destined to play its first-choice starting XI. It happens. It’s soccer. Meanwhile, Philadelphia seems to be a team on the rise, despite their 1-0 loss at Chicago over the weekend. Weather conditions there made the soccer less than ideal and Warren Creavalle was sent off for the Union.
Here to help us scout an improved Philadelphia side is Eugene Rupinski from our SB Nation sister blog covering the Union, Brotherly Game. I’ve answered Eugene’s questions as well, if you’re interested in checking that out over on their site.
Who are Philadelphia’s key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how have they affected Jim Curtin’s team and approach so far in 2016?
Eugene Rupinski: The Union revamped most of their entire starting XI during the offseason. They were able to trade players that didn’t fit the system (Cristian Maidana), didn’t work out (Andrew Wenger), or were just not very good (Steven Vitoria). Only five of the starters from the 2015 season opener are still with the team – and only two of those (CJ Sapong and Vincent Nogueira) made the starting XI during the first match of this season.
The addition of proven veteran players such as Ilsinho, Roland Alberg, and Chris Pontius help bring leadership as well as an upgrade on some of the talent up front. This compliments the addition of SuperDraft selection Keegan Rosenberry and USL product Ken Tribbett, who are both standouts on defense. This gives the Union an issue they’ve never really had before — depth. Having a group of guys outside of the starting XI that could come in and play at a high level has always been a luxury the Union couldn’t afford, so I think the learning curve will come in effectively managing the roster to get fringe guys minutes while keeping guys who start often fresh by giving them a game off.
Philadelphia is off to a good start, notwithstanding last weekend’s game in an intermittent blizzard at Chicago. Has the bright start changed Union fans’ views on what to expect from the team this season?
ER: The bright start has given some fans cause for optimism, however, this is Philadelphia. Fans here are used to teams either blowing the big game (Super Bowl XXXIX, 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, 2014 or 2015 U.S. Open Cup Finals) or being an absolute dumpster fire (last year’s 76ers, Phillies, or Union), so there’s always the sense that the other shoe is going to drop. There’s a portion of the fans who are even derisive toward the fans who had a sense of optimism and are just waiting for the Union to lose a couple in a row. But what can you do? Personally I’m feeling better about the team than I did at the end of last season. I think they’re going in the right direction, but they’ve certainly got a long way to go. There’s still 30 games left to play.
What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from the Union against Orlando City, and what do you view as the game’s key match-up?
ER: Look for the Union to go with the MLS standard 4-2-3-1, using the two central defensive midfielders as a double pivot. The Union are best on the counterattack, so don’t be surprised if Orlando winds up with most of the possession on the evening regardless of the outcome. The attacking midfield trio is dangerous regardless of which combination of Alberg, Ilsinho, Pontius, Tranquillo Barnetta, and Leo Fernades is put out by Jim Curtin. I think there will be two key matchups — the first is how Orlando’s defensive midfielders and center backs deal with the attacking threat of the Union’s midfield as well as CJ Sapong. There’s a lot of talent there — is Orlando up to the challenge? The second will be on the other side of the ball — can the Philadelphia defensive midfielders and center backs deal with Kaká, Cyle Larin, and Orlando’s high-powered offense? Putting up four on Portland is no small feat, and with defensive mid Warren Creavalle out on red card suspension, the Union may be a little more suspect to the attack.
What is your anticipated starting XI, key injuries/suspensions, and score prediction for Friday night?
Score prediction: It’s going to be cold (around 40 degrees at kickoff), and Orlando is taking a two-hour flight on short rest. 1-0 Union win.
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Big thanks to Eugene from Brotherly Game for giving us some insight on the Philadelphia Union. Now let’s see if the Lions can score their first goal in the series.