Preview: Philadelphia Union (n)
When? Tuesday July 20, 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT and 1 a.m. (July 21) GMT.
Where? ESPN Wide World of Sports, Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, FL.
How can I catch the action? On TUDN for residents of the United States and TSN for Canadian residents. Free Sports (Freeview channel 64, and on the app) for us U.K. folk. The game is also available online via Twitter, the TUDN app in the US, as well as the TSN app for Canada. You can also listen locally on 96.9 The game and 810AM ACCION (ESP).
Orlando City head into this match-up off of the impressive win over NYCFC. The Union also come into this in great form having similarly seen off NYCFC and Fort Lauderdale. This should be an intriguing match on all fronts. Whilst the Union have been anything but sluggish, you get the sense that Orlando City have hit their groove a little quicker. Something the stats in figure 1 will attest to. The Lions have a higher pass completion rate, possession rate and have allowed fewer goals, as well as fewer shots. These stats aren't anything to become complacent over though. Philadelphia have beaten two good teams, without being at their best. That makes them a particularly dangerous proposition. And you have to believe, three games in, they'll be heading more towards fitness and as such better placed to find their rhythm.
This is a game no-one was expecting, with our original opponents Nashville SC having withdrawn. Our group is now a group of 4, with the top 2 both proceeding to the knockout stages. Whilst these two teams have already sewed up those spots, a best 3rd place finish is still a possibility for NYCFC and Fort Lauderdale. That being said, don't expect Philadelphia or Orlando to take this game lightly.
Whilst both teams are through to the next round of this tournament, we must not forget regular season points are still up for grabs. So don't expect to see wholesale changes in this one. Oscar Pareja continues to benefit from having a fully fit squad at his disposal. The Union have signed Nathan Harriel to a homegrown contract, having traded us a 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick for his homegrown rights. He will remain with Philadelphia Union II. Philly have no new injury concerns, but continue to sweat on the fitness of Andrew Wooten. Michee Ngalina is back in full training however. Martinez begins his retrospective suspension.
Figure 1. Orlando leads Philly in possession, pass completion, shots for, shots against, goals for and goals against.
So far this tournament Philadelphia have favoured a 4-3-1-2 formation. Now, this is an interesting tactic in the context of this tournament for two reasons. First of all, it allows them to play in quite a compact manner, with Brendan Aaronson playing between the lines. He provides an excellent foil for the two main strikers in Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybyłko. Both are hard working, with the ability to hold up the ball and stretch the line. Secondly, this formation also allows the team to switch the play and work the ball out wide. Particularly with Alejandro Bedoya, and to a lesser extent with Jamiro Monteiro on the left (see the heatmap in figure 3). Bedoya will often drift into wide areas, as he did against Fort Lauderdale (see figure 2).
Figure 2. The 4-3-1-2 allows Jim Curtins' team to play in a compact manner, whilst simultaneously presenting them with options in wide areas.
Figure 3. Highlights how Bedoya has the ability to shift out wide, whilst his team mates play through the middle.
Quite a compact set up with the 4-3-2-1, but the movement of Monteiro and Bedoya in particular allows them to switch play to the flanks if they need to.
Possible starting XI for the Philadelphia Union
With no fresh injury concerns reported at the time of writing, I expect the Union to keep the same line-up and formation. Aside from the enforced change of Martinez. I think Ilsinho will deputise. Afterall, we are only two games into the competition. The Union have built up some good momentum, and they will want to keep that run going against an in form Orlando team.
The former Rangers and Nantes attacker is a pivotal cog in the Union's attacking machine. The New Jersey native has already opened his goal scoring account for this tournament, with a thunderbolt against NYCFC. He will look to exploit any space Joao Moutinho leaves when he joins the attack. Orlando will need to nullify his threat, if they are to continue their excellent start to MLS Is Back.
Both teams head into this encounter in fine form. Orlando won their games against Fort Lauderdale and NYCFC 2-1 and 3-1 respectively. Philly on the other hand beat the same opposition 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. Przybyłko has 3 goals against the Lions in MLS. The Union has won 2 out of the last 5 encounters, with Orlando taking 1 and the other 2 ending in draws.