By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
The Union moved up to second place in the Eastern Conference standings with their victory over DC United on Sunday, but they sit only one point above their impending opponents, Orlando City SC. This is another must-win match if the Boys In Blue want to widen the gap with Orlando and narrow the current four-point gap between them and the first place New England Revolution.
The win against D.C. was a gritty one, and although there were plenty of displays of shoddy discipline, the Union’s skill and creativity still managed to shine through in their attacking play. Daniel Gazdag was a true standout player in midfield, proving his class and technical ability in creating scoring chances for Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko, who both got on the scoresheet in the last game.
All eyes will still be on the defense, however, as the Union are still without goalkeeper Andre Blake. While Blake’s absence is proving to be less detrimental than initially feared, it’s still painfully obvious that Blake’s impact on the field stemmed far beyond his superhuman goalie talents. The Jamaican international is vocal, disciplined, and commands respect from his teammates. He can read the game extremely well, and organizes his back line accordingly—the effectiveness of Blake’s presence being backed up by the fact that, defensively speaking, the Union are in the top three best teams in MLS.
While it’s unfair to think that Matt Freese and Joe Bendik could ever be ample replacements for the best goalie in North America, they haven’t completely imploded and cost the Union any games, so there can still be cautious faith amongst Union fans that wins are possible while Blake is away on international duty. This is in large part to the back four, often comprised of left back Kai Wagner, center backs Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes, and right back Olivier Mbaizo. A largely defensive side themselves, Orlando will have their work cut out for them trying to break through the Union’s back line.
Predicted Lineup: Joe Bendik, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Matt Real, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Quinn Sullivan, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko
- Homegrown goalie Matt Freese will be available for selection again after serving his red card suspension, but Bendik impressed enough against D.C. to earn himself another start in net. Jim Curtin has brought a whole host of young players to travel with the team to Florida, and while it’s risky to play the young guys against such an elite opponent, it’s one that could easily pay off. Having that youthful energy is a unique advantage that the Union must utilize—it’s only doing a disservice to both the young players themselves and the Union as the whole if their only purpose for traveling with the team is to fill the bench.
Score Prediction: Orlando is also in the top three defensive teams in the league, so it will be no easy feat to score on them. While Santos and Przybylko are certainly finding their footing in front of the goal, it’s not looking incredibly likely that they’ll be able surmount a 1-0 win.