Orlando City plays a rare Thursday night match tomorrow against the Philadelphia Union. The Union sit right above the Lions in the table, making this a golden opportunity for Orlando to jump up a notch in the standings. It is also going to be the first match that I am able to travel to since the world went nuts, and I want to have a good time. Knowing all of that, what do the Lions need to do to defeat the Union and climb back up the Eastern Conference table?
Rotation is Essential
It’s another short turnaround match with a day of travel to boot. Yes, Orlando City returns to the friendly confines of Exploria Stadium, but it is also still dealing with some injuries. It’s likely that Antonio Carlos, Sebas Mendez, and Ruan will all be out or see limited minutes. That means it’s still next (or next, next) man up for the Lions.
In the last two matches, Kyle Smith had one of his worst performances of the season against the Chicago Fire and then one of his best against Toronto FC. He could be asked to go the full 90 minutes for the 14th time this season. João Moutinho played all 90 minutes in his return last match, so whether he can go a full shift against Philly is uncertain. That means Michael Halliday or newly acquired Emmanuel Mas could play some minutes, although the latter still needs his paperwork finalized before he can take the field.
The offense has it a little better off as it has been rotating more. Even without Daryl Dike, the depth is there. Nani played 90 minutes in Toronto, but does anyone doubt he’ll start Thursday? Both Tesho Akindele and Chris Mueller only played in one half last match, and Alexandre Pato may make his return. I expect Silvester van der Water to be back from his knock, and with Benji Michel and Alexander Alvarado also available, rotation shouldn’t be a problem up top.
The Midfield Needs the Maestro
Orlando City hasn’t looked as dangerous as of late, and that has a lot to do with how the midfield is playing. As our own Topher Adams pointed out, Designated Player Mauricio Pereyra hasn’t been performing at the caliber he’s capable of. Mendez made it back from international play only to go off with an ankle injury sustained when Smith accidently stepped on him. Junior Urso has been good this season, but even the Bear has looked a bit tired due to the schedule.
When Orlando City is clicking, the passing is crisp and clean, and that is what the midfield needs to get back to doing. How well the likes of Uri Rosell and Urso connect with Andres Perea and Pereyra will go a long way to determining how successful Orlando City’s attack is against the Union. Whoever stole Pereyra’s mojo needs to bring it back.
Possession with Purpose
Philadelphia employs a counter-pressing tactic in which it attempts to regain possession mere seconds after losing the ball. The Union have a tougher time defending against sustained pressure, so if Orlando can maintain possession for longer stretches then it can have success. The Lions must build out of the back, make the connecting passes, and patiently work the ball into the attack. Once there, they can take advantage of chances, or at the very least recycle the ball and deny the Union an opportunity to speed towards Pedro Gallese. Orlando City needs to employ Óscar Pareja’s philosophy of possession with purpose. It’s not enough just to keep the ball, Orlando has to press the Union’s defense again and again. Doing so will create the chances that the Lions need to win the match.
Those are the things I’ll be looking for Thursday night when I’m in Exploria Stadium. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Oh, and if you see me, say hello! I’ll be wearing purple.