Orlando City is unbeaten and untied after one whole match in 2017. But it’s not the Lions’ fault they’ve only played on game. Mother Nature decided to mess with Orlando’s early schedule and, as such, the Lions have a game in hand on everyone.
The second home match of the season will be a difficult one with the absence of Kaká, who is out for six weeks with a hamstring injury. The Lions will potentially also be without Carlos Rivas, who strained his own hammy early this week in practice.
The Union hold a 0-0-2 mark after two matches, drawing 0-0 at Vancouver and 2-2 at home to Toronto FC. Philadelphia has lost only once in five matches to Orlando, but at least it was in the most recent meeting, last October. At home, the Lions are 0-0-2 vs. the Union. This will be the first of two meetings this year, with the clubs closing the season against each other in
Philadelphia Chester, PA, on Oct. 22.
It’s been two matches and two draws for the Philadelphia Union in 2017. For those who haven’t watched the team this season, were those fair results, flattering scores, or should the Union have taken more points from those matches?
Eugene Rupinski: For the match against Vancouver it was a fair result. To go out to the west coast on opening day and come up with a 0-0 draw against a team that had already been playing in the CONCACAF Champions League is a good result. I think most Union fans were pretty happy about that.
I think the reaction to the Toronto match was a bit different though. Personally I felt it was a match that they should have won, if not for a missed penalty kick and Mark Geiger being Mark Geiger. When you have a team down a goal in your building with your captain at the spot, a draw seems pretty bitter. That being said, they did manage to draw the team that was a couple missed penalty kicks from hoisting the MLS Cup a few months ago, so it's not all negativity.
Who is pulling Philadelphia’s offensive strings in the post-Tranquillo Barnetta world?
ER: I think it's a little more decentralized now, both literally and figuratively speaking. I think that last season, the Union's offense ran through Tranquillo because he was a gifted playmaker and the kind of guy you want pulling those strings. Now that he's returned to Switzerland, the plays are originating from Haris Medunjanin and Derrick Jones and then being pushed wide to either Chris Pontius or Fabian Herbers. Pontius especially is being used as a target winger who looks to lay a pass off to Jay Simpson or Alejandro Bedoya. But there isn't really just one guy looking to be the playmaker — not yet at least.
Much has been made of Oguchi Onyewu’s comeback. How has the defender fared so far, and do you think teams are still trying to figure out how best to attack him?
ER: I think Gooch has performed above what most expectations were. At 34 and having been out of soccer for a bit, I think expectations were rather low but so far he's proven the doubters wrong. Can he maintain this form long enough to allow Josh Yaro to recover from his shoulder surgery? That's the big question and I think there's a lot that's kind of riding on his ability to hold his own for the next three to four months.
As for the best way to attack him, I think the answer to that is simple — but if you're looking to unlock the Union's defense it's the wrong question to ask. You can very easily beat Gooch with a guy with significant pace — Vancouver had some measure of success against him with Kekuta Manneh and Alphonso Davies, although neither could convert on their chances.
The problem is that you very rarely find him alone and exposed against a pacey forward. Keegan Rosenberry pinches in often to help him deal with the speed guys if they're attacking from their left (the Union's right) side of the pitch, while Richie Marquez will also pinch in when things come more from the center. While neither Rosenberry nor Marquez are particularly fast, both are fast enough that when working in tandem with Onyewu they're able to snuff out most attacks. The trick will be to spread the defense out wide and trying to isolate Onyewu against a much faster player. The Union were able to keep Sebastian Giovinco in check before his injury thanks in part to them forcing Gio off to Toronto FC's right (the Union's left) and out toward Richie Marquez and Fabinho, making Jozy Altidore match up against Onyewu — a much more favorable match-up for the Union as you're putting guys who usually rely on strength and aerial presence up against one another and in effect cancelling one another out.
What is your predicted lineup for the Orlando City match and your final score prediction? Also, are there any injury absences or suspensions we should know about?
ER: Josh Yaro is out 3-4 months after having shoulder surgery. Maurice Edu is still out, rehabbing a broken leg. Charlie Davies, Ilsinho, and Ken Tribbett are all listed as questionable, however I wouldn't be surprised to see any/all of them in the 18.
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Oguchi Onyewu, Richie Marquez, Fabinho; Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin; Chris Pontius, Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Herbers; C.J. Sapong.
Score prediction: I'll say 2-1 Union. I feel like Orlando is a bit vulnerable now having an unexpected week off and missing Kaká, and the Union have been playing well.
Big thanks to Eugene from Brotherly Game for giving us some insight on tomorrow's opponents from Philadelphia.