Union to meet expansion-side Orlando City SC for first time in MLS play

Philadelphia Union (6-13-4, 22 points) at Orlando City SC (7-10-6, 27 points)

What: MLS Regular Season; When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

TV: The Comcast Network with play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Janusz Michallik

Radio: None; Online: MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday

Rewind back to April 10, 2010 at Lincoln Financial Field for the Union’s home-opener in their second-ever game in MLS. They went on to collect their first-ever win, in front of the Sons of Ben, thanks to Sebastien Le Toux’s three goals – marking the team’s first goals and, of course, the team’s first ever hat-trick.

Compare that this year, March 13, with Orlando City SC playing their second-ever game as an MLS side. They had already played NYCFC to a draw in their opener, but were still searching for the first win against Houston Dynamo – a game they ultimately won 1-0 after an own goal from Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric.

Orlando’s first win was drastically different from the Union’s first win but it served the same purpose: it got the monkey off the team’s back early on in the season. Since that win, Orlando has gone on to have moderate success in the league, winning seven of their 22 games so far, good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

This weekend, the Union fly down south to take on the Lions in their inaugural meeting in Orlando’s first season in MLS. It is also a meeting between two teams below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, making both teams desperate to take all three points.

“We have Orlando coming in, a good team that scored five goals [versus Columbus],” said Jim Curtin. “We’ll take a look at their game against Toronto. They’re banged up but so are we. It’ll be two teams that are fighting for points and trying to get into the playoffs. As an Eastern Conference game, it’s big.”

The Union will be buoyed by the return of Richie Marquez who has been a full participant in practice this week. The team will also get Michael Lahoud back and available for selection after missing three months with a series of leg injuries.

“Richie’s ready to go which is a positive and gives us a real aerial presence,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who wins things in the air. You look at the last two games we’ve lost and missed on that, particularly DC with the amount of crosses that got put into the box. Lahoud has trained very well in the past two days that I would call high-intensity very hard days and he’s responded well so Michael is available for Orlando which is a very good thing: a guy who can play a lot of different spots and can help us.”

In addition to Lahoud and Marquez, newly-acquired Tranquillo Barnetta should be able to go for at least half the game with the possibility of earning a start with Vincent Nogueira still missing time with his thigh injury.

“We’re not saving him. To his credit he could have come in here in a spot where he said coach I’m not ready yet but he wanted to help the team in any way possible,” said Curtin. “He’s a guy who’s in his preseason though, so you have to manage it and he’s pushed through some difficult sessions and he’s really gaining fitness and sharpness so it’s exciting to watch him get better and give the guy a lot of credit to be a guy who wants to get out right on the field and contribute.”

For Orlando’s part, they have Kaká and Cyle Larin heading up their attack. Between the two of them, they have scored 20 goals, more than half of the team’s total goals. Outside of those two players, none of Orlando’s other players have more than two goals.

“It’s a tough task,” Curtin said when asked about defending Larin. “He’s a confident forward and confident forwards are tough to deal with. They put up five goals obviously against a very good Columbus team, a lot of them on headers inside the penalty area, something we’ll have to work on this week. In the box he’s a lively, young, confident, attacking player who’s living up to the number one pick.”

If the Union can shut down both Larin and Kaká, they will be able to control the pace of the game and take advantage of Orlando’s struggles on defense. Regardless of how they do it, the Union will need to come out of Orlando with at least one point if they want to have any chance at making the playoffs.

What do you think is the key to success vs. Orlando City SC? Leave your comment below.

Contact Union writer Kyle Basedow at kbasedow@philadelphiaunion.com.

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