With two home matches remaining in the 2022 MLS regular season, Philadelphia Union are facing two teams chasing major playoff objectives. Toronto FC closes the year at Subaru Park and can still climb into the postseason if their big midseason acquisitions overpower Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando.
That latter team, fresh off a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, can track down NYCFC and host a playoff match if they, well, knock off Atlanta, Toronto and that NYCFC team still searching for their post-Taty identity. But first they have to battle the Union on Saturday night.
Oscar Pareja’s side won the Open Cup with a strong side Wednesday night, but it was a draining win after a tight first half. That said, Philadelphia’s weather will feel breezy and cool compared to the Florida heat so expect a motivated and chipper opponent early that fades as the match goes on.
The big issue for this very talented Orlando City side has been goalscoring. Pareja’s team has generated the third-fewest shots in the league this year, behind only DC and Miami. While the Union spent the offseason looking for speed, quickness, and movement up front, Orlando went for size and strength, with Rapid Vienna’s Ercan Kara pounding the ground in the middle of the attack. Kara has nine goals thus far, but he hasn’t been the consistent threat the Lions need to put them in the Eastern Conference’s elite. Additionally, six of Kara’s nine goals have come against teams currently outside of the playoff picture.
But that’s a key flaw on an otherwise very solid team. And it’s not easy to reel off four consecutive wins in MLS the way both Orlando and the Union (and Nashville!) have done over the past four weeks.
If the Union want to take control of the match, they’ll need to keep Orlando’s width from becoming the most influential factor in the game. Ruan can streak up the field and provide service that pins back Philly’s aggressive defensive shape. This makes the always difficult decision between Leon Flach and Jack McGlynn especially tough for Jim Curtin. While McGlynn’s attacking value is clear to see, Flach’s incredible defensive workrate and reading of the game provide something far harder to detect: Freedom for the front three to get forward and, just as importantly, a sense of safety for Kai Wagner.
Philly’s consistent left fullback is so good that he has almost become a forgotten man. As the offense has thrived and the defense chases records, Wagner contributes on both ends in a way few others in league history have at the position. Flach’s ability to cover both left fullback and central midfield gives the Union a dimension up the left that shifts the defense to one side and opens the right for Ale Bedoya. The Union captain, also underrated to a stunning degree, doesn’t just find himself in great positions at the top of the box; he reacts to play up the left and — suddenly — the opposing defense is at a man disadvantage in the final third.
If the Union can create these kinds of situations on Saturday, they’ll be in good shape. If Orlando can build off their big cup win, this will be a tight match.
The Lions roll into Subaru Park on Saturday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Very few tickets remain, so grab them now or catch the action on PHL17, with Union Pre-Kick Live on Facebook at 7:00 p.m. ET.