Orlando City is set to face the Philadelphia Union this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Exploria Stadium. The Union come into this weekend’s match against the Lions as the top team in the Eastern Conference with 39 points, a 10-9-2 record, and a +18 goal differential in MLS matches this year. Let’s take a deep dive into what has made Philadelphia into one of the best teams in MLS and what Orlando may need to watch out for come Saturday night.
Philadelphia has been one of the most efficient offensive teams in MLS play this year, ranking fifth in total goals scored (33). Despite not being one of the more consistent clubs in terms of making offensive opportunities, as they rank 15th in total scoring attempts (255), the Union have used keen precision when presented with such opportunities, ranking tied for fourth in on-target scoring attempts (102) this season. This gives Philadelphia an accurate shooting percentage good enough for third in MLS at 40%, which means the Union get higher quality chances than the majority of teams in the league. The Union have had trouble maintaining possession this season though, ranking 27th in accurate pass percentage (72.4%), which is an area the Lions could take advantage of to create scoring opportunities of their own throughout the match. Similarly, Philadelphia has struggled to control possession when in attacking position, which could stunt the creation of offensive opportunities for the Union as they sit 27th in MLS in accurate forward zone passes (2,723) on the season.
The Philadelphia defense has been very strong this season, allowing the fewest goals of any MLS team thus far, with just 15 goals conceded through 21 games played. The Union have done well to limit the opposition’s scoring opportunities, only allowing 84 shots against, which is 11th in this category. These low levels of shots against and goals against can be contributed in large part to the overall defensive effort from the entire starting XI, which has limited opposing offenses all over the pitch. Philadelphia is first in the league in interceptions (248), blocks (373), and clearances (467), and second in tackles (429) and pressures (3,479). These statistics are indicative of what has been seen on the pitch all season long from Philadelphia and it is obviously paying dividends for the Union as their defensive efforts have separated themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Players to Watch
Midfielder Daniel Gazdag has been the leading offensive player for Philadelphia this season, leading the team in goals (9). Gazdag is also second in scoring attempts (37), although he has been one of the more precise attacking players on the team, leading in on-target scoring attempts (23) and is second among players with more than 10 total scoring attempts in accurate shooting percentage (62.2%). The Union offense has also seen surprise contributions from defender Kai Wagner, who has been a key part of setting up the attack. Wagner leads the team in both assists (10) and crosses (60), which is 52 more crosses than the next closest player, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (8).
Wagner’s contributions do not stop on the offensive side of the ball as he has also made it tough for opposing offenses as well. Back in his more typical role as a defensive player, Wagner leads Philadelphia in blocks (64) and is tied for second in interceptions (49). Defender Nathan Harriel has also played a key role in the Philadelphia defense, ranking first in duel percentage — among players who have won more than 100 duels — (59.2%) and interceptions (50). Andre Blake has started all 21 games for the Union, and for good reason, as he has been one of the top goalkeepers in MLS this year. Blake has allowed 15 goals on 82 shots for a stellar save percentage of 81.2%, which is the best in the league among regular starters.
That’s what I found on the top Eastern Conference team, the Philadelphia Union. Let me know what you think in the comments below and as always, go Orlando!