Game day for Orlando City is nearly upon us once again, with tomorrow’s match against the Philadelphia Union — the last that the Lions will play in Group A of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Ahead of this one I sat down with Joe Lister, of SBNation’s Brotherly Game, and he gave me some excellent information on how the Union have been doing so far this season. I also answered some of his questions about Orlando City, which you can find over at their place.
The Union have a perfect record in the MLS is Back Tournament. What’s been the biggest reason for that? In what area has Philly been the strongest?
Joe Lister: Philadelphia’s midfield is incredible, and that’s a fairly unbiased statement. Brenden Aaronson is incredibly versatile, and he’s clearly put in some serious work in the off-season. Ilsinho, though he hasn’t made any show-stopping moves yet, is always a threat. Jamiro Monteiro is the X-factor. When he’s on the field the team is always better. And Alejandro Bedoya, despite his age, is still a high-quality player and, more importantly, a great leader.
On the flip side, what area of the Union’s play do you think needs to be improved upon the most?
JL: The MLS Disciplinary Committee announced that defensive midfielder Jose Martinez would be suspended for the Orlando match. This is obviously not a reflection on the whole team, however, El Brujo is essentially the Union’s enforcer and his suspension isn’t good news.
In the bigger picture, it’s hard to pinpoint one piece that the Union needs to fix. At this point in the tournament, I’d say that the defense could use a little work, though this is based on one occurrence. Inter Miami’s lone goal on Tuesday came off of a defensive bungle, and Norwegian center back Jakob Glesnes didn’t look as strong as he could’ve.
Despite this, if everyone is healthy and active, it’s hard to criticize the team at this point (and I love to criticize them).
What are two names that Orlando City fans should know going into this one? Who needs to have strong performances for Philadelphia to make it three wins from three?
JL: Union fans (and the MLS in general) love to talk about Brenden Aaronson. Again, he clearly put in the off-season work to make himself an incredible player. Against NYCFC and Inter Miami he was all over the field. He antagonizes defenders, gets the ball, and as we saw Tuesday night, he can make some pretty incredible runs.
Keeper Andre Blake received a lot of criticism after last season. He was drafted in 2014 from UConn, and started as one of the best in the league, but had a steady decline over the last few years. However, against NYCFC he notched a clean sheet and seven saves. Against Miami, he allowed one goal while stopping three. Right now, not a lot is getting past the back line, and what does get by, Blake is saving. Getting past him might be Orlando’s biggest challenge.
Are there any players who will not be available for selection due to injury or suspension? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
JL: Again, Jose Martinez is going to be suspended. Right now, the Union is most likely replacing him with Warren Creavalle, who’s a solid player, though not the most skilled overall. Definitely not an enforcer type.
Additionally, forward Sergio Santos is looking at limited minutes, and forward Victor Wooten and Michee Nglina are both most likely going to be unhealthy, though it’s doubtful either of them would see much playing time anyway.
I currently see the Union running a 4-1-2-1-2 as such: Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Mark McKenzie, Kai Wagner; Warren Creavalle; Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro; Brenden Aaronson; Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos.
Watch out for Ilsinho coming on at about the 60th minute, most likely for Aaronson or Monteiro, and formation will adjust a little when that happens; everybody else comes on based on how the game is going.
I have the Union picked to take this one, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was a tie or a one-goal game. My prediction is Union 2 - 1 Orlando City.
Big thank you to Joe for the great insight on the Union, and vamos Orlando!