Pontius Orlando

Unbeaten in three career matchups with Orlando City, first-place Union look to keep rolling in Florida

Philadelphia Union has never lost to Orlando City SC in their brief history against the recent expansion club. Despite the fact the Union own an unbeaten record of 2-0-1 against their Eastern Conference foes, there isn’t a lot of separation between the two clubs. Philadelphia has won both their matches by a combined two goals. Their most recent victory came earlier this season in dramatic fashion.

On April 8 at Talen Energy Stadium, the match was deadlocked at one goal apiece. It appeared as though both clubs were destined for a 1-1 draw, but Tranquillo Barnetta had other ideas. In the 90th minute, Barnetta delivered the game-winning goal on a world-class free kick that hit the top corner of the crossbar. The ball found the back of the net leaving Orlando keeper Joe Bendik dumbfounded. A month later Barnetta is still in awe of his own accomplishment.

“When you hit the ball like that you just hope it goes in,” Barnetta said. “It was a great feeling to score the winning goal. A few days later when I saw the goal again, I thought to myself that was a really nice goal. It was fun and I’m really happy it won the game.”

Since that match the two clubs have gone in complete opposite directions. The Union are 2-1-3 and have gone unbeaten in their last five matches. Being able to rack up the points in the last month is the reason Philadelphia sits at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference.

Orlando City has gone 1-2-3 and snapped their five game winless streak this past Saturday against Montreal Impact. Despite the fact that Orlando has struggled as of late, they still pose as a dangerous threat. Cyle Larin leads the club with six goals, 25 shots and 13 shots on goal. Brazilian sensation Kaka controls the midfield for Orlando and Union head coach Jim Curtin talked about his presence on the pitch.

“With Kaka, obviously, he’s going to be the guy we focus on the most — he makes them go, we’ll have to deny him time and space on the ball,” Curtin said. “They present a lot of problems just because they have some guys that’ll really go forward and attack, they’re really aggressive going forward with their wingers.”

A player to keep an eye on for the Union is Andre Blake. The former No. 1 overall pick has had a stellar 2016 campaign, recording five wins and three clean sheets, which are both career highs. In his two career matches against Orlando City he is 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals against average.

Orlando City has created a tough environment for opposing teams. They have gone 12 consecutive matches without a loss at Camping World Stadium, going 6-0-6 in that span. With the Union coming into the match with an unbeaten streak of their own, it sets up for intriguing matchup.

This will no doubt be a tough test for Philadelphia as they continue their quest to stay atop the Eastern Conference. Their road record hasn’t been overly impressive going 1-3-1 away from Talen Energy Stadium, but the record doesn’t reflect how the contests have gone for the Union.

In two of their road losses they were forced to play with 10 men after red cards were issued. In Chicago Warren Creavalle was shown red, and despite playing down a man the Union lost by one goal to the Fire. It was déjà vu in Seattle, as Roland Alberg was sent off and the Union fell 2-1 to the Sounders. The club’s only road loss at full strength came on the first game of the year against the 2015 Western Conference point leader FC Dallas.

In order for the Union to leave Orlando with a positive result, they’ll have to continue to execute their philosophy that’s gotten them to this point. The club’s ability to win games even if they’re not at their best was evident on Friday against D.C. United. It’s a belief that Curtin touched on after the win.

“There’s a belief in the group, I think it is clear, even when it is not our best night we can win a one-nothing game roll up our sleeves and fight,” Curtin said. “We can win in a lot of ways. We can win pretty, we can win when we are a little off and we can win on a restart. I think it’s a testament to the group.”

A gritty effort may be in the cards for Philadelphia Wednesday. The club has given up the least amount of goals in the Eastern Conference (11) and has the best goal differential in the conference at plus four. Trying to maintain Larin and Kaka will be a test that the Union defense will certainly be up for. 

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