April 08, 2016
The Philadelphia Union look to be in pretty good shape for Friday night's nationally televised game against Orlando City.
Coming off a 1-0 loss in Chicago, the only wrinkle for Jim Curtin is replacing the suspended Warren Creavalle in the central midfield.
The obvious answer is to reinsert Vincent Nogueira at the number 8 spot, assuming he's healthy. Nogueira started the season in that position but hasn't seen the field since picking up a week two ankle injury. He was healthy enough to make the bench in the last two games, but was not required in New England and didn't really have a role to play in last week's short-handed game.
If Nogueira doesn't go, I feel like Tranquillo Barnetta can play in the box-to-box role. He's not a natural number 8, but definitely has the experience and savvy to play there. Roland Alberg played the 8 spot as a preseason experiment, but I don't think that's something the coaching staff is looking to do going forward, unless they're out of options.
Starting striker Cyle Larin is out with a hamstring injury and underrated center back Tommy Redding will miss the game after taking a blow to head against the Timbers. Additionally, left back Brek Shea was retroactively suspended for a poor challenge on Dairon Asprilla that only drew a yellow card.
I'd expect Aurelien Collin to come in at center back, with Luke Boden on the left.
Up top, they have a few options. You could see Carlos Rivas or former Union draft pick Pedro Ribeiro in there. Rookie Hadji Barry can probably play that spot, as well as the recently signed Brazilian veteran Julio Baptista, who isn't close to 100 percent fitness right now.
In 31 career games, Larin has already scored 20 goals. Combined, Rivas, Ribeiro, Barry, and Baptista have 4 goals in 61 MLS games. The latter half of that statistic might seem arbitrary, but the first part isn't. Larin is a big part of Orlando's success, and his absence is significant.
1 goal, 2 assists, 2 key passes, 3 shots, 3 fouls won, 3 recoveries, 1 block, and 21/24 passing for 88 percent accuracy.
More importantly than that, Orlando just seemed smarter about the way they worked with Kaka on the field. At times last year, especially early in the season, they seemed deferential to the superstar playmaker. They were looking for him on every play, forcing the ball inside, and trying to pick out passes that just weren't there. That made Orlando predictable and one dimensional, and really marginalized the other attacking talent on the team.
On Sunday night, it looked more fluid going forward. Kevin Molino, who was injured for most of last year, asserted himself on the ball. Adrian Winter played a smart and more conservative game. They got the fullbacks forward and into the attack. Even when Larin went down, they played a bit of pseudo-false 9 with intelligent spacing and strategy. Rafael Ramos didn't make any dumb challenges. They scored on a set-piece, a penalty kick, and a left back overlap.
Our sample size for Orlando+Kaka is only 90 minutes at home, but Sunday's game really did offer a glimpse at what they're capable of when firing on all cylinders.
We'll see how it works in colder conditions, on the road, minus three starters at Talen Energy Stadium.