We all know the story on Orlando City pretty well at this point: the club has officially been eliminated from playoff contention with two games left this season, and now the Lions head north with nothing to play for when they face a Philadelphia Union side that is still very much alive in the hunt for the playoffs.
Playoffs or not, the focus has been on Jason Kreis’ plan to move the club forward in 2017 for a while now, as we inch closer to the end of what has undoubtedly been a season filled with plenty of ups and downs, culminating in the club’s second consecutive postseason-less campaign.
Ready or not for the off-season ahead, the international break is over and Orlando City is ready to hit the field for the 33rd time this season — this time at Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, TV27).
The last time these two teams met, Adrian Heath was still in charge of Orlando City, as the sides played to a 2-2 draw at Camping World Stadium back on May 25. In the first meeting of 2016, of course, Philadelphia snatched a win in early April on a late free-kick goal by Tranquillo Barnetta that never should have counted. But I digress.
We’ve only got two known injuries worth pointing out for the Lions ahead of this one. Defender David Mateos is out for the season with a torn MCL, and midfielder Brek Shea is currently questionable to play against Philly after picking up a foot injury.
As has already been mentioned, the Lions aren’t playing to secure a playoff spot this weekend, so it’s tough to say what Kreis has in mind as far as fielding a full lineup goes. The focus from Day 1 has been to evaluate the players at his disposal right now, and with the pressure of making the playoffs gone he could go all in on evaluating over these final two games.
That could mean more looks at youth that we haven’t seen much of lately and possibly more formation tweaks.
At some point we’re going to see Rafael Ramos play under Kreis. If he’s healthy, I think this is his moment. No Mateos means a possible look into a future pairing of Tommy Redding and Jose Aja with Mikey Ambrose manning the left back position.
Elsewhere on the field, it’s hard to see any surprises. Kreis will still be looking to finish the year strong, and Orlando City’s strongest attack will probably see the field.
When you take a look around the league and talk about some of the most surprising story lines this season, the Union certainly come to mind, as the club based in Chester, PA, is pushing for its first playoff berth since 2011.
Like Orlando, Philadelphia has also been in a concerning slump lately, winless in its last five games with three losses spread across those competitions.
Chris Pontius has been a massive piece to the puzzle for Philly this season after coming over from D.C. His 12 goals lead the team, and make him a focal point for Orlando City’s defense, which has struggled mightily over the past couple of months. C.J. Sapong up top will also create problems throughout the afternoon.
Alejandro Bedoya joined the Union this summer and while he hasn’t made a big impact in terms of scoring right away — one goal and no assists in eight games — he’s still a player worth watching in the midfield as he battles with Orlando’s dangerous attacking midfield.
Player to Watch For
Normally I wouldn’t tell you guys to be watching a defender, but Keegan Rosenberry has been putting together a Rookie of the Year kind of season for the Union. The No. 3 overall pick in this year’s SuperDraft has started all 32 games for Philadelphia this season while holding down that right back position with authority.
Orlando City is going to try to work down the left side with guys like Kaká and Matias Perez Garcia, but will find it a challenge having to go up against the 22-year-old.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Philadelphia Union 3
I’m just kinda ready for this all to be over, too.