Well, last weekend turned out to be a pretty big bummer for most fans in Orlando. Roughly 20 minutes before my match preview was set to publish, the New England Revolution announced its home match-up with Orlando City would have to be postponed due to extreme weather conditions. The game will now be played on Sept. 2.
So now, friends, we turn our attention to this weekend as the Philadelphia Union travel to Orlando City Stadium for the Lions’ second game of the 2017 MLS season on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., TV27).
Orlando City hasn’t played since its opening day 1-0 win over NYCFC back on March 5. That two-week gap between games this early into the season could be considered both good and bad for the Lions, who have been dealing with some injuries and could stand to get some extra rest. On the flip side, clubs are still trying to get a consistent string of form going this time of year, so an extra week off could slow Orlando’s roll heading into week three.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, is coming off of a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC, its second draw of the young season. Philadelphia will be on the hunt for its first win when it faces off against Orlando on Saturday.
All-time series: Orlando City — one win; Philadelphia — two wins; two draws. The Lions have not beaten the Union at home in MLS.
Projected Starting XIs
Philadelphia (4-2-3-1): Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Oguchi Onyewu, Keegan Rosenberry; Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin; Chris Pontius, Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Herbers; C.J. Sapong.
Orlando City: (4-4-2): Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Will Johnson; Giles Barnes, Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco, Matias Perez Garcia; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.
Not much has changed for Jason Kreis’ side since the last time it lined up. Kaká is still out with a hamstring injury. Carlos Rivas also picked up a hamstring injury during training earlier this week, and was considered “day-to-day” by Kreis. If Rivas — who returned to training on Thursday — is unable to go for the Lions on Saturday, that could change things up quite a bit as far as the lineup goes.
Kreis is committed to running with two forwards, and I don’t see Hadji Barry getting the start when he can simply slide Giles Barnes up into the second striker spot beside Cyle Larin.
That would change things up in the midfield, where Kreis could go a little extra defensive and run with three defensive midfielders — Cristian Higuita, Servando Carrasco, and Antonio Nocerino — behind Matias Perez Garcia. That would also mean Will Johnson — while Kevin Alston is back in full training — starts at right back once again, next to his back line partners of Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, and Donny Toia.
But, since Rivas returned on Thursday, albeit possibly in a limited capacity, I don’t think it will come to that. Let’s slot him into his usual spot, and go with the lineup as it looked two weeks ago after Kaká’s exit.
Philly is going to make this game an interesting defensive battle with the attacking players Jim Curtin has at his disposal.
Chris Pontius will be a player to keep your eye on over on the left side. Alejandro Bedoya...fine, I’ll say it, he’s beyond overrated and I don’t care what Philadelphia fans think — although, they probably think he’s overrated too, because he is. He’s overrated. But hey, watch out for him too, I guess.
C.J. Sapong will likely get the start up top after Jay Simpson left last weekend’s match against Toronto with a bruised lung that forced the forward to the hospital. Thankfully, it’s not something the club sees as serious, though it will probably keep Simpson sidelined against Orlando.
A little farther down the field, Haris Medunjanin and Derrick Jones had very good games in the defensive midfield against Toronto Similarly, center back Oguchi Onyewu looked his best for most of the match. If Philadelphia gets another solid 90 minutes from those guys — along with Keegan Rosenberry — then the Lions will have a tough night in front of their home fans for a second straight match.
Player to Watch For
Watch for Pontius out on the left wing. He’s getting up there in age, but still has some energy left in those legs. If Will Johnson does end up starting at right back again, he and Pontius will be a fun battle to watch throughout the night. Johnson was great against NYCFC and shut down its left side attack. If he can do that again — and the center backs hold down Sapong in the middle — it’ll be another good night for Orlando City’s defense.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Philadelphia Union 1
I think this is going to be another defensive battle. Both of these sides are very closely matched, and even with the big home field advantage, the injuries the Lions are dealing with right now doesn’t put them that far ahead of the Union. This game will be a low-scoring draw.