Philadelphia Union saw a strong performance propel the club back above the Eastern Conference Playoff line with a 3-1 victory over Orlando City SC on Sunday afternoon. Kai Wagner opened the scoring in the first half and Kacper Przybylko notched a brace to become the third player in club history to reach 30 goals in league play.
Philadelphia came out of the gates with the same dominating offensive spirit that marked their midweek contest against Club America. Long spells of possession kept Orlando City’s center back trio inside their own box, while quick, organized pressure created opportunities for both Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner to whip crosses into the center of the box. The first connection came in the 16th minute with the Cameroonian defender racing up the right wing on the counterattack and sending a ball to Kacper Przybylko that the striker headed too close to Pedro Gallese.
As the clock ticked on the Union continued to dominate possession as the visitors remained content in their defensive shell. Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes were tested in the 26th minute as the speedy Benji Michel raced into the final third, but a solid Union defense made quick work with a tackle inside the box.
The Union’s preferred style of press and attack generated one of the best chances of the first half. Jamiro Monteiro dispossessed the Lions in the attacking third and held off his man before flicking a pass into Mbaizo’s path. The defender quickly fired in a low cross that careened in the box before falling to Leon Flach 18-yards from goal. The midfielder went full blast with his left foot but saw it glide just wide of the post.
Orlando City’s defensive walls finally crumbled in the 37th minute as the Union quickly went from defense to offense with Wagner playing a key role on both ends. After a Monteiro free kick was snuffed out, Wagner quickly went to ground to cut off the counter and put the Union in perfect position for an opening goal. Przybylko played Burke into the box and the Jamaican spied an unmarked Wagner at the top of the 18. Crisp pass, left footed blast, and the Union were up 1-0.
The pace of the match slowed at the start of the second frame as Orlando sought to hold less of the ball and minimize Philly’s chances to counterattack.
The Union brought additional numbers to the wings and were more patient in buildup than in the first half.
However, Orlando found a surprise equalizer when Mauricio Pereyra picked out Ruan at the back post with a delicate lifted pass and the defender nodded it back across the goalmouth where it nestled in the far corner of Andre Blake’s goal.
Philly had worked too hard this week to allow the scoreline to remain level. In the 61st minute, Monteiro decided he would take matters into his own hands with a brilliant individual run along the endline. Rounding his man in the box, he fought through the defender’s body then tackled the ball away from the next man he met. Alert play from Bedoya just in front of the near post resulted in a flick back to the tenacious Monteiro and the midfielder found Przybylko in the center for a lashed finish.
Daniel Gazdag and Sergio Santos provided fresh legs for Jim Curtin’s men and Santos immediately set to work driving fear into the Orlando back line. Over and over, he exposed the space in front of Pedro Gallese, eventually winning a late free kick just outside the box that Wagner ripped on frame, forcing a punch.
On the other end of the pitch, Blake and Junior Urso engaged in an individual battle as the Union goalie smothered anything Orlando’s long strike specialist pulled out.
Monteiro’s activity and industry helped push his team on, and for the first time this year both he and Gazdag looked dangerous going forward at the same time. In the 85th minute, sweet feet from Santos led Gazdag into the box, but after battling off a bigger defender the Hungarian had no legs left to poke in the finish.
As time wound down, it became increasingly clear that, goal or not, this was one of those matches that Sergio Santos would dominate. Antonio Carlos, who stood so tall for Orlando City in the MLS Is Back Tournament, found himself choking on Santos’ dust when the striker rounded the corner on him and strode into the box. Carlos pulled Santos from behind as he clipped his ankles, resulting in a red card and a penalty kick that Przybylko drilled home with purpose in the 89th minute.
Philadelphia Union wraps up its home September schedule with another nationally broadcast showdown against Atlanta United FC on Saturday, September 25th. The two sides face off for the fourth time in 2021 with the Boys in Blue looking to continue their unbeaten form against the Georgia side. The match is also Hispanic Heritage Night presented by BIMBO with limited tickets are still available for the Eastern Conference clash. Kick off is set for 3:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on TUDN, Univision and on Twitter.