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The Union look to stay hot in Orlando: Preview and Predictions

The Union, coming off of a triumphant 9-point week in MLS, will face a worn-out Orlando City side on Saturday in the Sunshine State

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Scouting Orlando City

Unfortunately for the Lions, they are playing their sixth game in the month of July tonight. MLS has had a congested schedule over the last few weeks, and Orlando played an additional friendly against Premier League side Arsenal on Wednesday. In the thick of the playoff race (5th in the East,) Orlando can hardly afford to rotate the side on Saturday night. This is the first area of the game where the Union, on a week’s rest, should look to take advantage. Orlando seems to be about average in almost every major offensive and defensive statistical category this season. They also don’t have a player fighting for the Golden Boot, or even an All- Star. The 7 goals to DP Austrian forward Ercan Kara’s name aren’t nothing to write home about. 22-year-old winger Facundo Torres was brought to the club for a club-record $9 million from Uruguayan club Peñarol, but his 4 goals and 4 assists have not earned him a place among MLS’ elite attackers. This is not to take away from the worldie he put past Aaron Ramsdale during Wednesday’s friendly vs Arsenal. Still, the Lions have found ways to get results and for now look set to reach the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive year.

It remains unclear whether summer signing and USMNT forward Nicholas Gioachinni will join the team for Saturday’s match. If he does, it’s unlikely he starts.

How the Union could play it

As I wrote above, Orlando’s recent schedule will be the Union’s best friend. An early goal or two on the road will make life much easier for Jim Curtin’s side. The Union have beaten good teams (NYCFC and New England) recently by playing at a higher pace and intensity from the first whistle than their opponent. The Union should look to score early goals through forcing turnovers, attacking second balls, and capitalizing on sloppy play, common symptoms of fatigued teams. This will give them a cushion on the road where it’s tough to fight for a late goal. Jack Elliott returns from a knee injury in central defense, allowing Jim Curtin to once again pick his first-choice back line. The one absentee from Saturday’s game will be captain Alejandro Bedoya, who picked up a suspension for yellow-card accumulation after being booked last Saturday vs. New England. This is where 18-year-old Quinn Sullivan could come into the side on the right side of the midfield diamond. After a positive showing for the USYNT at the CONCACAF U-20 championships (6 goals, 4 assists) and being the lone homegrown attacker left out of the starting XI vs. New England, Sullivan deserves the chance to start on the big stage in Orlando. In his press conference, Jim Curtin mentioned the idea of playing left-footed midfielder Jack McGlynn inverted on the right side or even sliding Daniel Gazdag to the 8 with Paxten Aaronson at the 10. The latter seems the least likely out of the 3 scenarios. Curtin also noted that he’s liked the experience and composure Olivier Mbaizo has shown in road games at right back, explaining his selection to my XI. He made it clear that there is a legitimate competition at right back between regular starter Nathan Harriel and Mbaizo, calling it “a coach’s dream.” Other than that, I think Curtin will stick with the same guys that have propelled the Union to the top of the Eastern Conference and into the Supporters’ Shield race.

My predicted XI:

Prediction: 2-1 Union, Mikael Uhre scores his 4th goal in 4 matches, Daniel Gazdag puts away another penalty kick, and Quinn Sullivan picks up an assist.

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