Union

Union-Orlando City 5 Things: Bracing for the Kaka-less Lions

Union-Orlando City 5 Things: Bracing for the Kaka-less Lions

Union at Orlando City SC 
Saturday 7:30 p.m., The Comcast Network

After two straight draws to start the 2017 season, the undefeated and winless Union (0-0-2) hit the road to face an Orlando City SC (1-0-0) team that will be missing one of the league's marquee players. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Striker status
After starting striker Jay Simpson scored 11 minutes into his home debut last week, he was forced to the locker room with an injury -- and then to the hospital after he frighteningly began coughing up blood. 

Luckily for the Union, head coach Jim Curtin says the injury -- a bruised lung -- doesn't appear to be serious. But considering he hasn't practiced most of the week, it seems doubtful he'll play in Orlando.

"He's a tough kid," Curtin said. "He probably had another goal or two in him, so that was disappointing. But injuries are part of the game and he'll have to recover now."

The Union are fortunate to have a more-than-serviceable replacement in C.J. Sapong, who came in for Simpson and scored the game-tying goal in last week's 2-2 draw with reigning MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC. 

"I'm happy with where C.J. is," Curtin said. "We know what he's all about. He'll fight for the Union badge, he'll give everything he has every day in training, whether he's starting or coming off the bench."

2. No Kaka
Just like Simpson, Orlando City SC star Kaka exited in the 11th minute of his home debut two weeks ago. But his situation is more serious as the Brazilian midfielder will miss a few weeks with a hamstring injury.

It's naturally a tough blow for Orlando but the Lions have an interesting option to replace him in Giles Barnes, a proven MLS player who assisted on Orlando's only goal in their season-opening 1-0 win over New York City FC. 

"He brings an element of speed," Curtin said. "He's a dynamic player, dangerous. And he's at a new club so he's looking to impress his head coach."

Midfielder Matias Perez Garcia will likely also see an expanded role with Kaka out, teaming with Barnes, Carlos Rivas and 2015 Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin in a dangerous four-man attacking front.

"Cycle is a great presence," Curtin said. "Twelve yards in, he's as good of a finisher as we have in our league."

3. No Mickey Mouse environment
Due to a weird scheduling quirk, the Lions will play their second straight game in their sparkling new stadium without having yet to leave Orlando. That's because their scheduled game in New England last week was postponed due to extreme cold.

It's hard to know if having a week off will hurt their momentum or if staying home will prove to be an ideal start to their 2017 campaign. Either way, Curtin is expecting a daunting atmosphere in Orlando -- even if the team is excited to get away from the cold.

"Everyone thinks about Disney and thinks it's a happy, smiley, kid-friendly place," the Union coach said. "I can tell you the Orlando fans are an intimidating group -- nothing Mickey Mouse about their group of supporters, that's for sure. 

"It's one of the few places where I get a police escort in and out of the building, I'll just put it that way. The police officers are actually very friendly, which is good."

4. Keep an eye on
Joe Bendik:
Aside from Larin and maybe new center back Jonathan Spector, no one was better in Orlando's opener than Bendik, who made a few sparkling saves, including the top one of the week. Between him and Union standout Andre Blake, we could be looking at a game with a few highlight-reel stops.

Derrick Jones: The 20-year-old defensive midfielder has had a terrific start to the season in his first two MLS games. But this will be another stiff test for Jones, who Curtin said is drawing praise from around the league, including coaches and execs from Toronto. "He's an exciting player in a position where I think the work sometimes goes unnoticed," Curtin said. "He's doing it in a way where a lot of people are taking notice in a position that maybe isn't the most glamorous."

5. This and that
• After missing the first two games with a hamstring injury, Ilsinho is expected to be available to make his season debut. He'd likely come off the bench with Fabian Herbers cementing his role on the right wing.

• Both of the Union's previous two games in Orlando have ended in draws but Philly leads the all-time series, 2-1-2. 

• Dating back to last season, the Union are winless in their last nine regular-season matches.

• Sarpong's goal last week was his fourth off the bench for the Union. Only four Union players have ever scored more off the bench with former super-sub Antoine Hoppenot leading the way with seven.

'World-class' Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads Galaxy over Union

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USA Today Images

'World-class' Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads Galaxy over Union

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — For a little over 45 minutes, the Union, and their two teenage centerbacks, held the LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in check. 

Then something changed. 

In a brief lapse, Ibrahimovic tied the game with a clutch assist to Ola Kamara in the 48th minute, then buried a goal in the 63rd minute for the lead. The Galaxy didn’t look back to take the 3-1 win on Saturday at a rainy Talen Energy Stadium.

“Up until that point, we did a good job with him,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “But that is what world-class strikers do. They can pick their moments and dominate and win games. He is about as special a player as there is.” 

On his goal, Ibrahimovic accepted a short pass from Romain Alessandrini inside the Union box. The 6-foot-5, 36-year-old shuffled briefly, picked his head up and fired off a right-footed shot that thread between Union defenders and past Andre Blake. 

He was given space, and took every bit of it.

“He’s a world-class striker, one of the best players our league has ever seen and one of the best strikers are game has ever had,” Curtin said. “He’s less likely to dribble and run by you now, so we preached to get close. On that instance, I think we did give him a little bit too much space.”

The Union knew it could happen. Since signing with the Galaxy in late March, Ibrahimovic has 12 goals in 15 games. He put that skill on display Saturday. Despite the consistent downpour and wind, the Swedish legend was dangerous on the ball and threatened the Union at will. 

“I just keep doing my job,” said Ibrahimovic, who finished with six shots, three on net. “[MLS is] lucky I did not come 10 years ago because I would be the President.”

The would-be President still had good things to say about the Union. Despite padding the stat sheet, Ibrahimovic liked what he saw from the Union’s teenage centerback duo of Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, who was born in 1999, the year Ibrahimovic turned pro. 

“I think they did a good job,” he said. “It’s not easy, two young guys, not so much experience and then the weather conditions were not the best. I think they did a good job.”

Union fall to LA Galaxy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in rainy 3-1 loss

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USA Today Images

Union fall to LA Galaxy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in rainy 3-1 loss

CHESTER, Pa. — They fought through heavy rain, wind and three days rest. But the Union couldn’t get past Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who netted a second-half goal and an assist to propel the LA Galaxy over the Union, 3-1, on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. 

The defeat was the Union’s fifth loss in their last seven MLS games, to drop their record to 7-10-3. The Galaxy are unbeaten in their last seven games, moving to 9-7-4.

• Union defender Auston Trusty, who was born a year before Ibrahimovic went pro in 1999, drew primary defensive duty on the big attacker. For the first half, Trusty and the Union did well to slow him down. Then the second half began.
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• Down one, the Galaxy would tie the match when Alejandro Bedoya turned the ball over in the midfield and it ended up on the foot of Ibrahimovic. He absorbed enough defensive attention to slide the ball forward into open space for Ola Kamara, who scored the tying goal. 

• In the 63rd minute, Ibrahimovic would strike again. Romain Alessandrini beat his man on the left side before dishing to Ibrahimovic, who pulled it to his right foot and fired off a low shot that beat Blake for the 2-1 Galaxy lead. Michael Ciani added the insurance from Allessandrini for the 3-1 final score.

• The 36-year-old hasn’t lost a step. He now has 12 goals in 15 games for the Galaxy — seven more than anyone on the Union.

• But it wasn’t all bad. In the 29th minute, C.J. Sapong finally broke through. After 12 scoreless games, the forward, while falling down, redirected a low shot by Borek Dockal, causing the ball to bounce slowly past David Bingham for the 1-0 Union lead.

• It was just Sapong’s third goal of the season and first since April 28, but was a nice reward for an active game. He had a season-high three shots on goal. He was replaced by Cory Burke in the 68th minute.

• Saturday was a homecoming for two former Union players. Chris Pontius, who is having an excellent first season for his hometown team with five goals and four assists in 19 games played, made the start for the Galaxy. He was replaced by another former Union player, Sheanon Williams in the 79th minute.​​​​

• It's a quick turnaround for the Union, who will now travel to BBVA Compass Stadium to face the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday on the road, where the Union are 2-6-1 on the season.