Union

Union-Orlando City 5 things: Returning home with playoffs in sight

Union vs. Orlando City SC
3:00 p.m. on TCN 

With a week to regroup from a troublesome road swing, the confident Union (11-12-9) will have an opportunity to take a step closer to the postseason Sunday, when they host Orlando City SC (7-11-14) at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know.

1. Union Regrouping
The Union enter Sunday’s match slumped over, riding a five-game winless streak and going 0-3-2 over that span. But with two weeks away from game action before facing Orlando City, manager Jim Curtin hopes the club hit a reset button.

“We’ve had a good week and a half of training and we’re looking to finish the season strong,” Curtin said. “This is about getting back to basics, doing the things that have made us a successful team this year and executing our roles. It’s about staying within ourselves and not trying to get out of our comfort zone.”

Aside from a focus on the basics, the Union hope the remedy to their slump is home cooking. For the first time since Sept. 10, the club will play at Talen Energy Stadium, where they are 8-3-4 on the season.

“We’ve been a very strong team at home,” Curtin said. “We set the goal of 10 wins in Talen Energy Stadium, and we look to set ourselves up in a position to reach that goal, it’s something we will try to do in these final two games. We know it’ll be a tough task but the guys are confident and they’re playing well.”

2. Saving Sapong
The Union’s outlook could get much better if C.J. Sapong could break out of his slump. As the club’s backbone target forward, Sapong has just two goals since May 20 and has gone eight games without a goal. 

“There’s no secret the goals haven’t been coming for C.J.,” Curtin said. “Nobody wants to score more than C.J., but he also knows the most valuable thing is helping the team get three points. That’s what we need. All strikers go through droughts and … he’s a guy we believe in and he’s done a great job for us this year.” 

But the more concerning aspect is his shot totals. Sapong isn’t just getting unlucky, he only has one shot on goal in his last seven games. Whether that’s on him, the opposition’s defensive plan or lack of service, the Union want more opportunities from Sapong. 

“We’d like more shots and looks at goal, it’s something we’re working on in training every day, so when he does get his opportunity in games he’ll take care of them,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who is working hard.”

Curtin is working to get his top scorer back on track by injecting confidence and keeping Sapong’s head in the right space, with the goal of avoiding poisonous frustration.

“He’s unique, he’s his own person, so you have to get your message across the right way and find out what makes him tick,” Curtin said. “When he’s confident, he’s unstoppable in our league. We want to get him going again and get him back to his form.” 

3. Spoiler Orlando City
Although Orlando City is officially outside of the playoff race and 2-7-7 on the road this season, the Union are considering Jason Kreis’ club a very dangerous opponent and possible spoiler.

“It’s a tricky one,” Curtin said. “You have a team that has dangerous attacking pieces, but how Jason will handle it, I don’t know. It’s a dangerous one. Guys are fighting for their positions in the team, not just for the rest of this year but for the future. They really want to impress a new coach.”

While Orlando City, which still features leading goal scorer Cyle Larin and leading playmaker Kaka, is 0-4-1 in its last five, Curtin isn’t sure whether to expect a similar team to the one the Union faced in a 2-1 win on April 8, a 2-2 draw on May 25, or a completely different club.

“It becomes about us, it becomes about the Philadelphia Union winning a game at home and everyone just executing and doing their job,” Curtin said. “Who Orlando puts on the field, we can’t control. Regardless of how they approach the game, we have to be executing and doing our jobs in front of our home fans."

4. Keep an eye on
Union: After receiving a cortisone shot in his foot to help the pain associated with plantar fasciitis, Ilsinho, who hasn’t made a start in seven matches, appears to be back in the starting conversation for the Union. When he plays, Ilsinho is a dangerous option for the Union on the right side of the midfield. “One way or another,” Curtin said, “he will influence the match on Sunday.”

Orlando City SC: Though he has only one goal in his last six games, Cyle Larin could punish the Union on Sunday if the hosts aren’t careful. Despite the slump, the forward has 14 goals in 30 games this season.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s last match (New York Red Bulls on Oct. 1), Alejandro Bedoya left the match with an injury to his rib area. But according to Curtin, the rangy midfielder is ready for Sunday. “He has a little pain when he plays any longer ball and his body has to twist in a certain way," Curtin said. "He feels it, it’s nothing that will prevent him from playing.”

• The Union have never lost to Orlando City, with a record of 2-0-2 all time. 

• Union center back Josh Yaro, who left the club’s last match against the New York Red Bulls with a concussion, has not been cleared for Sunday and is not expected to play. He’s officially listed as questionable.