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Week 26 Recap: When a Snake Strangles a Lion

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

There’s no time for tears after the Union were unceremoniously knocked out of the Concacaf Champions League on Wednesday, as Orlando City SC paid a visit to Subaru Park for a Sunday evening matchup.

The lineup was unchanged from that fateful CCL semifinal game, but they didn’t look any less energized. Despite being plagued by injuries and two red card suspensions, Orlando wasted no time in testing the Union. Andre Blake was put to work early, but the Union were able to not only gain possession relatively easily, but maintain it long enough to get into Orlando’s half.

It was immediately obvious how effective the midfield diamond (made up of Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jamiro Monteiro) were going to be against Orlando. One of the Union’s best scoring chances of the half came after Monteiro stole the ball away from the Lions in their own final third, crossing it to Olivier Mbaizo, who passed it off to Flach. The German midfielder took a shot from about 18 yards out, but it glanced just wide of the goal.

Kai Wagner, in true Wagner fashion, was grinding from the very first minute, but came up especially big in the 37th minute. Monteiro sent a low free kick into the box, where Orlando handled it and knocked the ball out of immediate danger. Wagner cut back into the action, passed to Kacper Przybyłko, who then found Cory Burke, who promptly sent the ball back to Wagner for the Union’s first goal of the match.

Orlando was able to catch the home defense off-guard when Mauricio Pereyra was able to lift a ball to Ruan near the goalpost, where he was able to head the ball past Andre Blake and into the corner of the net.

As the second half commenced, it became clear that the Union were determined to snatch their lead back. In the 61st minute, Monteiro sprinted up the field, weaving through two defenders to hand the ball off to Bedoya. Bedoya was then able to flick the ball back to Monteiro, who found Przybylko in the center to pull the Union ahead 2-1.

Jim Curtin made some uncharacteristically early substitutions, putting on Daniel Gazdag and Sergio Santos before the 70th minute of play. Curtin also, surprisingly, didn’t employ the use of any of his Homegrown players, despite Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, and Jack McGlynn all being available for selection off the bench.

A scrappy and messy match, both Orlando and the Union saw yellow cards throughout the second half. Things reached a boiling point in the 88th minute, when Orlando’s Antonio Carlos pulled Santos down and clipped his ankles inside the box, earning a red card for Carlos and a penalty for the Union. Przybylko lined up for the shot, and put it in the back of the net to give the Union their final result of 3-1.

Man of the Match: It could easily go to a number of players on the team, but it was wonderful to see Przybylko get back into scoring form with his brace, not to mention his work rate throughout the entire match. While he has been guilty of disappearing from any game action that doesn’t happen in the opposition’s attacking third, this game was a refreshing change back to the prolific Przybylko fans know and love. (Honorable mentions can go to the entire midfield diamond, particularly Flach and Monteiro for their contributions on both ends of the field.)

The Main Takeaway: Now that they don’t have to worry about the CCL anymore, the Union can focus solely on MLS and making it safely into the playoffs. This performance was exactly what they needed to simply feel like themselves again, especially after being laid out by Club America in both legs of the semifinal. The performances by everybody on the field were excellent, and it will hopefully by the confidence boost that will propel them back into a playoff spot.

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