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Brotherly Game

Union host Orlando in a watered-down battle of talented teams



Photo by Carl Gulbish

The Philadelphia Union continue their MLS campaign against Orlando on Saturday night at Subaru Park with kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. The match will be streamed on Apple TV and is free to watch with Steve Cangialosi and Danny Higginbotham calling their second Union game of the year. The match will also be broadcast on the radio on 97.5 FM in the Philadelphia area with Jonathan Yardley and Lisa Roman on the call – fans can select this audio feed as well on Apple TV.

The Union are in sixth place in the East with six points from four games while Orlando is in ninth with five points on a win and two draws. The Union are coming off a chaotic and frustrating 3-2 loss at Montreal last Saturday, while Orlando suffered a similarly disappointing 2-1 loss at home to Charlotte. Both teams were coming off the second leg of their Concacaf Champions League ties the past Tuesday.

While FIFA is in an international window, MLS has decided to play on with a full slate of matches despite numerous players absent from their clubs. The Union are also missing three of their young contributors to a United States U-20 Men’s National Team camp, bringing their total to nine absentees.

The Union will be without Brandan Craig, Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan for the USMNT camp, and Daniel Gazdag, Richard Odada, José Martínez, Damion Lowe on international duty. Andre Blake remains unavailable with his groin injury, and Julián Carranza is serving his suspension from the red card he picked up at Montreal. 

Orlando is missing goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, attacker Facundo Torres and midfielder Wilder Cartagena on international duty as well as Thomas Williams, Michael Halliday, Alex Freeman, and Favian Loyola to youth USMNT camps. 

That means Saturday will be a test of depth for both teams that are talented, but stumbling somewhat in the league amidst CCL fixture congestion. The betting markets have the odds for the Union to win at -145, Orlando to win at +360 and draw at +280. 538 has the Union at 65% to win, Orlando at 13% to win and draw at 22%. The -145 odds come out to a 59% probability, so 538 is a little bullish on the Union compared to Vegas.

The Union have the best odds to win across the league this week, which is surprising given Orlando’s talent, but likely a reflection of their superior depth and home field advantage – the Union have won 13 straight matches at home. Orlando has also not recorded a win in its last five matches. 

Orlando acquitted itself well in CCL, bowing out to Tigres away goals with a 1-1 draw in Florida after a 0-0 draw in Mexico in the first leg. Overall though, Orlando have been underwhelming in attack all season, with the third-worst xG league wide through four matches at 3.4. The Union are fifth at 6.5. 

It’s too early to make sweeping conclusions from the underlying numbers, but there’s no doubt Orlando’s already sputtering attack will severely miss the talented Facundo Torres, who leads the team in xG at 1.1 and expected assists at 0.8.

Orlando were set up defensivey with three in the back against Cincinnati and D.C., and earned draws with 1.0 of total xG across both matches, which came in the thick of the CCL tie. The loss to Charlotte was disappointing, but Orlando was unlucky to lose with a 1.5 to 0.7 advantage in xG.

Orlando has seen a bright spot offensively with Duncan McGuire, their 2023 SuperDraft pick from Creighton and winner of the 2022 Mac Hermann Trophy as the best player in college soccer. He played 90 minutes and scored against D.C. United, and he picked up an assist in 66 minutes against Charlotte. He’s earned rave reviews so far and drawn comparisons to another Orlando SuperDraft pick, Daryl Dike, for his knack at poaching.

Without Torres, Orlando’s efforts with the ball are led by Argentine attacking midfielder Martín Ojeda and Uruguayan midfielder Mauricio Pereyra. Ojeda was a big addition for Orlando this offseason from Godoy Cruz in Argentina and scored against Charlotte, but only played one 90 minutes once in four games. Ojeda is a skilled all-around threat, but has yet to really click this season. Pereyra is one of the stalwarts of the Oscara Pareja era in Orlando with superb distribution and ranks fifth in the league so far in progressive passes with 34. 

Defensively, Orlando has capable center backs in Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel. Jansson is a great distributor and Schlegel puts out fires with lots of tackles in the defensive third. When Orlando played three in the back they also used Abdi Salim, a 2023 SuperDraft pick from Syracuse.

Orlando will definitely miss Gallese in net, as he has perennially been one of the best pure shot stoppers in the league. He’s been in a good vein of form to start the year, ranking ninth in the league in post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed. 

Overall, Orlando is a talented team, solid from front to back, and should be near the top of the East come season end with a lot of attacking talent in Torres and Ojeda. It’s early but Duncan McGuire could be the man to put in double-digit goals with consistent service from the quality around him. Despite the slow start in the table, I like this team, although it will be an Ojeda-centric effort in Philadelphia.

Keys for the Union

I don’t know what lineup Jim Curtin will use on Saturday, and Joe Tansey outlined in his newsletter the options he could use: stick with the 4-4-2, switch to the Christmas tree, or go with a three-center-back approach in a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2. 

I think, given that all four first-choice starters in the backline are available, Curtin will stick with four in the back. It makes sense to slide Jesus Bueno into Martínez’s spot. If Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach resume their usual spots, staying in the diamond makes sense, with Joaquin Torres at the 10 and Mikael Uhre and Chris Donovan up top. If Curtin wants to keep Donovan on the bench, he could use the 4-3-2-1, and put Andres Perea alongside Torres in the two attackers behind Uhre. 

While I think Perea is overall a better player than Bueno, Curtin will likely stick to his system and Bueno makes sense at the bottom of the diamond. While Donovan’s lack of polish in front of net is apparent, he still has the things a striker in the Union’s system should: a good defensive workrate and the willingness to make smart, hard runs to get into good positions. The Union will need production from their third striker and I believe Curtin will stick with his players and his formation. 

The other reason I think Curtin can stick with the diamond is that Orlando isn’t as fearsome without Torres. There’s no need to come out in a more defensive 4-3-2-1, and Flach, Bedoya and Bueno can handle Orlando’s midfield trio of Pereyra, César Araujo (a two-way threat, but primarily a destroyer at CDM) and Ojeda.

So, if Donovan plays, I’m hoping he has a good game and can convert a chance. I’m also looking at Joaquin Torres to be creative consistently, and set up Uhre and Donovan. The Union are not better without Gazdag, but Torres offers more ways to unlock a set defensive side. While I expect lots of take-ons, I’m looking for him to play dangerous balls from the half-spaces on either side.

Lastly, the Union just need to be sharper in their own box, which primarily falls on Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes and Joe Bendik. The two late goals they conceded to Montreal were uncharacteristically sloppy, and McGuire is the type of player who thrives on loose balls.

I think Orlando, having shown the preference to play conservatively when rotation is involved around CCL, will set up defensively and look to follow the blueprint of playing three in the back to neuter the Union’s transitional opportunities. The Union should be ready for this by now, but in another tricky game, they could use a set piece goal. Glesnes and Elliott could be very valuable in this regard. 


Orlando is a tough out, even on the road without their best attacking player. I’m on the McGuire hype train too, but I think Orlando is going to be a little too defensively set up to create consistent chances, at least for the meat of the game.

I think it will be a labored Union effort with a lot of huffing and puffing and little payoff. Ultimately, I’ll say a late set piece from Wagner to Glesnes will be the difference in a 1-0 result to keep the home winning streak rolling.

Amit grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania and has been a Union fan since the franchise started. He has contributed to coverage of the Union and the United States Men's National Team for this website dating back to 2017. At his previous job, Amit was a collegiate sports information director, including time with men's and women's soccer programs. He also was one half of the World Cup After Dark podcast in 2018 and 2022. He is pursuing a master's degree in data science and lives in Chicago.

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