Preseason preview: Union vs. Orlando City S.C.
The Philadelphia Union open the 2013 preseason with a team they have yet to beat: Orlando City S.C.
The Union are 0-1-1 against the "Lions" in two prior meetings.
And while you can't put too much stock in February exhibition games, you can certainly make a case that Orlando City is the premier up-and-coming club within USL Pro.
For starters, they've won the league's regular season title in consecutive years. In 2011, Orlando also won the USL playoffs in dramatic fashion, defeating Union affiliate Harrisburg in a penalty shootout.
In 2012, Orlando ran away with the Commissioner's Cup, but surprisingly went out in the semifinals of the playoffs to the Wilmington Hammerheads.
"We have the good fortune of having a good relationship with Orlando City, and they are a really good, professional organization," said Union manager John Hackworth on a conference call with reporters. "I think there's an obvious reason that MLS is considering them for (becoming) a franchise here."
Orlando City leads USL Pro in average attendance – nearly 7,000 fans show up for their games in the Citrus Bowl.
The franchise originally existed as the Austin Aztex, but team ownership moved the club to Orlando in 2010 and rebranded. A number of the players, including head coach Adrian Heath, stayed with the team through the relocation.
This season, City signed a two year deal to become Sporting Kansas City's USL affiliate club. Orlando has aspirations to become an MLS team and they've played exhibitions in recent years against English sides Stoke City, Newcastle, and Bolton.
"They have great fan support," Hackworth added. "The team and the coach does a fantastic job and we've obviously been tested both times that we've played them down here. We think that will occur on Saturday, which we're looking forward to. We want to be challenged, we want to be tested. We know they're going to bring it in front of their hometown crowd. It'll be a really good opportunity to evaluate players, hopefully get a good result, and move forward from there."
With that said, here's additional information on Orlando City:
February 18, 2012: Union 1, Orlando City 1
This was the final tuneup of 2012, and it was a great game.
Zac MacMath stopped a first half penalty kick, and the Union went up 1-0 when Danny Califf headed home a Gabriel Gomez free kick in the 27th minute.
It looked like Philadelphia had a 1-0 win wrapped up, but Orlando's Max Griffin found a dramatic stoppage time goal to rescue a draw for the home team.
Watch: Union 1, Orlando City 1
February 19, 2011 – Union 0, Orlando City 1
This was a rough outing for the Union, after Carlos Valdes was sent off in the 17th minute for bringing down Griffin.
Interestingly enough, that samed referee would also red card Valdes in the Union's U.S. Open Cup loss to DC United in the same season.
Former Lions midfielder and current D.C. United man Lewis Neal scored on a 19th minute free kick, and the 10 man Union were unable to equalize.
Recap: Union 0, Orlando City 1
Current notable players
Ian Fuller, M – Fuller plays in the Orlando midfield, and he also happens to be an assistant coach as well. He spent the 2002 season in MLS with the New England Revolution.
Miguel Gallardo, GK – Orlando's long time goalkeeper is a Mexico native who spent most of his youth in Texas. After a short stint in Mexico, he returned to the Austin Lightning, then moved to the Austin Aztex, and stayed with the team as they moved.
Jamie Watson, F – Watson was another guy who played for the Aztex before the club was relocated. He's got 23 goals for Orlando going back to 2009. He was also capped 25 times for the United States U-17 team.
Rob Valentino, D – A big six-foot-three defender, Valentino came over from Tampa Bay in 2011.
James O'Connor, MF – A midfielder with a solid pedigree in England. 176 caps for Stoke City, 126 caps for Burnley, and 139 caps for Sheffield Wednesday.
Former notable players
Lawrence Olum, D – A solid defender who played for Sporting Kansas City in 2012. Olum won the U.S. Open Cup playing alongside both Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler.
Yordany Alvarez, MF – A defensive midfielder, Alvarez starred for Orlando before he was loaned to Real Salt Lake in 2011. That deal became permanent in 2012, and Alvarez appeared 15 times during that campaign.
Lewis Neal, MF – Neal made the switch from England's Shrewsbury town to Orlando City in 2011. After one season in Florida, he made the jump to DC last year and scored this wonderful goal to send United to the playoffs.
John Rooney, F – Wayne Rooney's brother. He was drafted by the New York Red Bulls, ended up with Orlando, then made his way back to England with championship side Barnsley.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com