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The Union’s inattentiveness proves costly in third consecutive home defeat on an unhinged night against Orlando City



Photo: Morgan Tencza

The Philadelphia Union dropped its third consecutive match at Subaru Park to Orlando City in a frustrating 3-2 loss that left the team with just one point in its last four games. 

Orlando City entered the match at 2-3-5 and exited the match at 11th in the Eastern Conference with 12 points. The Union are not much higher in ninth, with 14 points after 11 matches.

On a beautiful May evening at Subaru Park, the Union came out roaring in the trademark 4-4-2 diamond with a near full-strength XI. Oliver Semmle remained in goal and Quinn Sullivan started up top for the suspended Julian Carranza. 

Oscar Pareja’s team came out in a 3-5-2 with a handful of creative players on the ball across the midfield in Martin Ojeda, Facundo Torres and Nico Lodeiro, who was effectively serving as wide playmaker in more of a 3-4-3 supporting the two-man strike partnership of Duncan McGuire and Luis Muriel.

Lodeiro’s positioning was the key to the Union’s approach, as they overloaded on their right hand side to get Alehandro Bedoya, Quinn Sullivan, Nathan Harriel and Jose Martinez playing tight combinations in the space Lodeiro vacated. Orlando City does not press very high and for all the advantages gained with a bevy of technical midfielders, the team yields physicality and defensive work rate. 

The Union were winning duels across the field in the first half, with Nathan Harriel and Jose Martinez in particular stepping to the ball. Jack McGlynn was also having an excellent two-way game, tracking back for many key interceptions and showcasing his passing range and tidniess on the ball against Orlando’s deep block.

The Union’s early one goal lead felt deserved in the 12th minute on a smartly worked goal recycled after a corner kick. Jose Martinez tracked a clearance, slid the ball to McGlynn, who leveraged his left foot’s danger to find a wide open Nathan Harriel on the edge of the box. Instead of taking a decent shot from distance on his weaker foot, Harriel found Mikael Uhre right in front of him for a tidy finish. It was a bright start for a Union team that looked ready to dominate an out of form Orlando City side.

But out of nothing on a throw-in after a cleared corner kick in the 21st minute, the Union lost McGuire for a free header in the six yard box, which he powered past Semmle on a cross from the gifted Lodeiro.

It was a momentary lapse in tracking from Damion Lowe, but unacceptable against a striker who is an aerial threat and poacher in the box. The cross from Lodeiro maybe could have been closed down faster but it was another goal for the low-light reel of the Union’s defense in the first half of the 2024 campaign. 

The Union got right back into their rhythm and had a lot of nifty combinations against an Orlando side happy to sit deep without the ball, but the final ball wasn’t quite there. And again, out of very little, Orlando struck again on a thunderbolt from Muriel in the 41st minute.

The Union have conceded a lot of goals from outside the box this season, and this was just a superb strike, but it was just a bit too easy for a striker as talented as Muriel to explode past Wagner and cut inside onto his lethal left foot. The 33-year old is fresh off a five year stint at Atalanta with 54 goals in 144 appearances and still has the ruthlessness that separates him from the average starting forward in the league.

In an instant, a hard working half resulted in a 2-1 scoreline for the visitors. And instead of a measured response, the Union did nothing to learn from their lack of respect for Orlando’s dangerous players to start the second half. Just 30 seconds after the whistle, a loose ball in the midfield found a wide open Nico Lodeiro, who picked out a wide open Muriel in the channels. The Colombian striker ran straight for 20 yards to fire past Semmle to make it 3-1. 


Again, there was really not much leading into the goal, but the optics of a striker as good as Muriel waltzing into a breakaway right out of halftime are emblematic of the current state of the Union defense. 

To the Union’s credit, their hallmark resiliency showed up again, and the hosts committed to flooding numbers forward and launching the ball into the box. 

A direct and furious barrage followed for most of the second half, and despite a goal ruled offside in the 53rd minute, the Union earned a penalty in the 66th minute on a handball that Daniel Gazdag converted by wrong-footing Pedro Gallese.

The Union kept on coming, but Orlando found moments to counter with McGuire and Ojeda, with Lowe and Jakob Glenses repeatedly chasing down the strikers on long balls. Lowe took down McGuire right on the edge of the box in the 74th minute and received a red card, but VAR rescinded it in a decision that allowed the Union to keep chasing the game.

Chris Donovan was subbed on for Martinez in the 80th minute and the Union battered Orlando city down the flanks to bomb service into the box. Ultimately, it paid off with a penalty kick after Nathan Harriel was clipped by Cesar Araujo after making a run to the far post on yet another cross. 

Yet, Daniel Gazdag did not convert the ensuing spot kick for only the second time in his Union career, and first not in a shootout. 

There were 15 minutes of stoppage time, and the Union huffed and puffed for one more moment of magic. Tai Baribo even appeared at striker for Lowe. 

But Pedro Gallese, one of the league’s best trolls when he’s in form, was emboldened by his penalty save and played the villain to the bitter end – when Harriel glanced a left footed deflection from six yards out just over the bar in the 107th minute in one final twist of the knife. 

Union fans will remember Gazdag’s first penalty kick miss in Los Angeles. For the second to come on the night when Gazdag was honored pregame for becoming the Union’s all-time leading goalscorer  – 28 of his now 58 goals in blue have been penalty kicks by the way – it feels like the snake on the crest emblematic of a ‘join or die’ mentality has come to bitingly mock the message to the team in a bad omen of the vibes writ large. 

See: the final xG on the night was 3.9 for the Union to 1.4 for Orlando. 

In the end, the Union are the maddening team they showed tonight, capable of imposing their identity on talented teams and full of commitment to running hard, but also extremely leaky among an experienced backline that has no excuses to be. 

The quality of crossing and finishing from a few individuals for Orlando, like Lodeiro with three assists and Muriel with two goals, made the difference on a night when the Union’s collective did not yield enough quality in front of goal. Maybe it was just a case of MLS/Concacaf gone wild given the players on the field. It feels more dire than that. 

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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