Philadelphia Union did not win so much as calmly crush Orlando City SC Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. Ale Bedoya’s fourth minute goal was enough to see off the visitors, but Philly was in control from start to finish. Here are some key takeaways from a strong performance.
The center holds
Orlando City’s new head coach James O’Connor used Will Johnson and Oriol Rosell to sit in front of his defense, with Sacha Kljestan, Josue Colman, and Chris Mueller supporting Dom Dwyer.
It didn’t work. The Union’s central midfield trio was spry and nimble, dancing around their opponents throughout the first half. Kljestan tried to stay close to Haris Medunjanin, but the Bosnian out-thought the American and continually found space through which to distribute. I mean, look at this first half passing chart.
Long progressive passes that stretched Orlando’s shape and opened gaps for Borek Dockal. That’s how you draw it up.
At halftime, O’Connor threw on Dillon Powers to close up the center and it killed Philly’s rhythm, but even so there was little the Lions could do to penetrate, and the Union could have run away with the result.
Dwyer don’t like it
Dom Dwyer is an excellent player… and also sometimes he maybe kinda sorta hits the ground a little too easily. Don’t take it from me, though: Referee Rubel Vazquez was not buying the Orlando City striker’s histrionics as he lost battle after battle to Philly’s teenaged center backs. Both Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty treated their US international opponent with what might be called positional disdain, going about their jobs as Dwyer nibbled at their heels, always a second behind the play.
Key to the Union’s success was the high line that their center backs held, closing off the space that Kljestan needed in the middle to turn and lift balls behind the defense for Dwyer, Mueller and Colman to attack. That high line meant Keegan Rosenberry was asked to do yeoman’s work on Colman throughout the opening frame, going toe to toe with the tricky winger and holding his own as Dwyer occupied the Union’s central defenders.
McKenzie and Trusty will have another tough test this weekend against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but for now they can say they once again faced off against a consistent MLS scorer without backing down an inch.
Ale Bedoya was the best player on the pitch. Three key passes and a goal. Five recoveries and an interception in the opponent’s half. He was everything a designated player should be in MLS and it propelled the Union to the US Open Cup semifinal.
The Union captain has often been known as the type of player that makes others around him better, but on Wednesday night, the relationship between Bedoya and his teammates was symbiotic. Medunjanin and Dockal’s quick play helped advance the ball through midfield so easily that Orlando made a halftime change. Rosenberry supported play on the right with such consistency that he, Bedoya, and both David Accam and later Marcus Epps could run circles around Orlando if they didn’t have a goal to attack.
This was a vintage Ale Bedoya performance. And if he repeats it in the next round, Philly will be going to a third US Open Cup final in 2018.