Matches will be coming a bit thick and fast this week for Orlando City, with a showdown tomorrow night against the Philadelphia Union. The Union sit one point and one place above Orlando City in the Eastern Conference standings. Ahead of Philly’s visit, I spoke to Joe Lister, one of the assistant editors of Brotherly Game, and he did a great job of getting us up to speed on the Union.
The Union won the Supporters Shield fairly comfortably last year and are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings once again. If you had to pinpoint one thing, what is the most important factor in this team’s success?
Joe Lister: The Union’s defense has been huge. Jack Elliott is having his best year yet, and Olivier Mbaizo is showing that he is more than Ray Gaddis’ backup since he’s gotten starting time this year. Andre Blake continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league (if not the best), and Jose Martinez has been shutting down attackers left and right (when he’s not suspended).
There’s plenty of strength in the midfield and (somewhat) the attack, but this year, the defense has simply been huge.
Daniel Gazdag is a Hungarian international midfielder and one of Philadelphia’s big signings, arriving two months ago in May. How has he performed so far?
JL: Gazdag’s gotten three starts in three different positions over the past three games. He’s played as a No. 8, a forward, and a No. 10. He didn’t look incredible in the No. 8 role, looked decent up top, but really showcased his talent as a No. 10 against D.C. United on Saturday. Check his assist on Sergio Santos’ early goal.
Gazdag could (and possibly should) get the start as the No. 10 over Jamiro Monteiro, but the Union rarely ever change their lineups, so we’ll probably see Gazdag off the bench.
Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson both left the team during the off-season to join Genk and Red Bull Salzburg, respectively. How have they been replaced?
JL: Aaronson has been replaced by Gazdag, Leon Flach and the Union’s army of 16-year-old Homegrown Players. The kids are finally starting to get some minutes, but Flach has performed consistently, and Gazdag’s looked strong.
McKenzie’s replacement was supposed to be Stuart Findlay, but Findlay hasn’t really seen any of the field this season simply because Elliott and Jakob Glesnes are doing a fantastic job as center backs.
All in all, the Union aren’t suffering too much without their star Homegrowns and the team hasn’t been necessarily bleeding without them.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
JL: Blake, Alvas Powell, and Cory Burke are all on international duty with Jamaica. Blake will be missed the most, but Matt Freese is a top-tier keeper who could start on most MLS teams.
Jack de Vries and Anthony Fontana are both concussed as of now. Fontana is a solid super sub, but de Vries has been sidelined all season with this concussion. Ilsinho is also questionable with a groin injury. He’s been out for a while, but it looked like he might make the 18 against D.C., so don’t be shocked to see him come off the bench for Philadelphia.
Here’s my starting XI for Philly, I’m predicting a 2-1 win for the visitors.
Matt Freese; Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Olivier Mbaizo; Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro; Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybylko.
Thanks again to Joe for the update on the Union. Vamos Orlando!