A pair of goals in the opening 10 minutes proved to the be the difference as Philadelphia Union lost 2-1 to Orlando City SC at Subaru Park on Saturday night.
Missing nine players between international callups, injuries and suspensions, the Union were behind early and couldn’t claw back to grab points despite dominating the rest of the match.
Two minutes after the opening whistle Orlando City struck with a volley over the Union defense from Mauricio Pereyra to beat the high line. The pass sent Martin Ojeda 1v1 against Joe Bendik and the winger chose finesse over power with a low rolling shot inside the far post.
The Boys in Blue looked poised for an equalizer before Orlando forced a takeaway and countered with a numbers advantage. Center back Jack Elliott stopped the opening wave with a block as Ojeda sought a second goal however the ball rebounded to the Orlando attacker. With Elliott off-balance, he went low with a through pass that sent Ivan Angulo in on goal for a 2-0 lead.
Facing an uphill challenge at their fortress, the Union settled down and looked for a route back into the match. Outside backs Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner led the attack on the flanks. In the 12th minute it was the Cameroonian with an in-swinging cross into a busy six-yard-box but neither side got a touch and it skipped out of play. The Union counterpressed and earned a corner kick with Wagner providing service. Orlando dealt with the first attack but the Union battled back for second and third chances that ended with Jakob Glesnes striking a wobbly volley.
The Union got on the board in the 17th minute with former Orlando City midfielder Andres Perea scoring against his former squad. Using Mbaizo as the decoy, Alejandro Bedoya cut a soft pass inside to Joaquin Torres who drifted out wide. Torres sent in a perfectly weighted cross to the far post where Perea smashed a header off the post but tapped it right across the goal on the rebound to get Union fans out of their seats.
With The River End rocking, Orlando nearly responded with a counterattack but back-to-back saves from Bendik and Glesnes prevented the third before an offside flag showed it would never have counted.
Perea continuing to make plays against his former team, combining with Torres in the 36th minute. Captain Alejandro Bedoya sent in cross to the top of the box where Perea chested down the pass for a left-footed curler from Torres that earned a free kick chance when it deflected off a hand.
Both Wagner and Elliott stood over the ball from 23 yards out before the center back stepped up to unleash a curler bound for the upper 90 that forced a leaping save.
Orlando City wouldn’t allow Perea to bag a first-half brace, opting to concede a free kick just outside the 18 when the midfielder combined with Mikael Uhre for a give-and-go and was taken down. From a similar position as before, Elliott chose to go for the quick pass to an unmarked Perea on the left side but a poor touch saw it dribble out of play.
Head Coach Jim Curtin turned to a play off the Union training grounds to open the second half with an aggressive kick off formation that saw Glesnes ready to charge at the opposition. Torres tapped a pass backwards Bedoya Mbaizo punted a long volley to Glesnes who took up space as an attacking midfielder. The Norwegian caught Orlando City off guard as he drifted onto the left flank where Torres was unmarked. The midfielder sent a hard pass to the feet of Uhre who had to battle off two defenders before spraying a throughball to Bedoya. With inches of space, Bedoya ripped a cross as he fell out of bounds that Torres headed on frame saw denied.
Philly continued to thump passes forward and use quick combo passes to generate chances. The 59th minute saw a Union chance created off a throw in from Mbaizo as he spotted Bedoya open in space. The Union midfielder picked out Torrres who took a look up at the keeper and ripped a blast that went just over the cross bar.
Moments later with the crowd begging him to shoot, Glesnes obliged. The center back unleashed a bouncing ball from long range that forced a two-fisted punch from the keeper and fell into the path of both Uhre and Chris Donovan but neither could redirect it on goal.
After the chance, Curtin shifted the 4-4-2 diamond into a 4-5-1 to take advantage of the space out wide. Torres sent a cross into the middle of Orlando’s box where Uhre went full stretch to deliver a diving header wide of the net.
With just five field players available as substitutes, Curtin went full attack as the homegrown duo of Nathan Harriel and Matt Real entered alongside Jesus Bueno. With fresh legs on the outside, Glesnes unleashed a diagonal cross from the midfield line and Wagner put all his weight behind a one-time rocket that skimmed the crossbar.
45 seconds later, Wagner took the playmaker role as he sprayed a pass to the far post where Bedoya headed it on target only to be denied by another reaction save.
With the Union pressing high, Orlando City looked to put the match away in the 87th minute with a counterattack spearheaded by Duncan McGuire who laid off a soft pass into the center of the box for a wide open Ojeda but Bendik came up with the point-blank save.
The Union kept pushing until the final whistle with Torres picking out Matt Real for a headed chance just as the match hit the 90th minute.
The final chance came in the 95th minute with Donovan jumping twice to win a header and set up a scoring chance for Elliott. The center back battled a Lions defender at his hip and turned quickly for a shot from the six yard box but close quarters took the power out of the shot.
Philadelphia Union opens April at Subaru Park as they welcome Western Conference foe Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, April 1. Kick off from Chester Pa., is set for 7:30 p.m. ET with match serving as Philadelphia Union U-Serve Night presented by BIMBO Bakeries USA. If you can’t make it out, watch live on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app.