Preview: Philadelphia Union (h).
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
When? Thursday July 22, 4:30 p.m. PT, 7:30 p.m. ET and 00:30 BST (23/7)
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game is live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and TSN 2. The game is also being broadcast on the radio; FM 96.9 The Game, Accion 97.9 and 810 AM. The game is being broadcast live on Sky Sports Football for us UK folk.
Once again, the scheduling gods have been unkind to me. I have work commitments, so will unfortunately be deprived of witnessing this match at 2 in the morning. I shall instead, rest easy after work and watch the game with a beer in hand, safe in the knowledge that Orlando City scored 3 points. Right? I'm trying to manifest this win. Anyway, enough chit chat. This is another vital, but winnable, game for Orlando City. Whilst I'd refrain from calling this recent run of results a rut, it's certainly a sequence that the Lions will be keen to snap. A game against one of our divisional rivals is, arguably, the perfect time to turn things around again.
So, without further ado let's get stuck into this one...
As you all will certainly know, we are coming up against one of the toughest teams in MLS on Thursday evening. They have quite a miserly defence, having only conceded 13 goals on the season so far; tied with ourselves. Only Columbus and Seattle have conceded less in the entire league (figure 1). They have an XG against score of 1.44, and concede at a rate of 0.93 goals per game. There won't be a hatful of goal scoring chances for Orlando, in this one. But their defence is certainly not infallible.
As well as having a solid defense, they have an energetic midfield, that will certainly cover a lot of ground (see heatmap in figure 2). The midfield battle is going to be an interesting one. They've been utilising a 4-3-1-2, which allows for the 10 to simultaneously support the midfield and the attack. Orlando obviously prefer to make use of a 4-2-3-1. The midfield is going to need help from the forwards, particularly if our full-backs push on to support the attack.
Figure 1 shows the league leading defences, at the time of writing.
Figure 2 shows the heatmap for Philadelphia's midfield (Flach, Martinez and Bedoya) in their win over D.C.
As with most teams in MLS right now, injuries and Gold Cup call-ups have hit this roster hard. The Union are expected to be without Jack DeVries and Anthony Fontana due to concussion protocols. Meanwhile, Andre Blake, Corey Burke and Alvas Powell are all on Gold Cup duty. Ilsinho is a doubt with the groin injury that's plagued him of late.
Orlando City meanwhile, are expected to be without Antonio Carlos and Daryl Dike. There were hopes, within the club, that Antonio Carlos would be back for this game. We shall wait and see. Joao Moutinho is listed as questionable, yet he came through the Toronto game so I'd expect him to be involved. Alexandre Pato could be involved, after travelling to (but not featuring in) Toronto. Ruan remains a doubt.
Possible starting XI
I'm actually predicting an unchanged XI for this game. This XI got the dub last time out, and both strikers scored. So it's hard to imagine any changes there. The Union's absentee list has left them short of options in midfield, and I think Jim Curtin will opt for a settled back 4. Oh, and look. An old friend has been filling in for Andre Blake. Hi, Joe.
Sergio Santos is perhaps not the most gifted player on the Union roster; but he's no slouch. And is beginning to establish himself in this team. The Brazilian forward has acclimated fairly well to life in MLS. Since joining the Union in 2019; he's bagged himself 15 goals from 30 starts and 22 substitute appearances. His assist and goal in the win over D.C. United further underlined his abilities. Whilst he's not always been a first choice, he's always been reliable when called upon. Santos now has 2 in 2. His goal from the bench against the Red Bulls earned him his starting spot against D.C., and he duly repaid his managers' faith with a match winning display. Player to watch for this game.
The Union have started the season strongly, and currently sit 2nd in the East having usurped ourselves recently. They have an overall 6-5-3 record, though they've only won 2 of their last 5 games. They won their last match, though. A 2-1 home win over D.C. United propelled them into second place.
Having started the season in superb form, it's no secret that the Lions have faltered of late. Successive defeats to the Red Bulls and Chicago were followed up by a less than impressive draw in Toronto. The Lions will be looking to improve on their 6-4-3 record as they return to Exploria Stadium.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com.
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