Union

Union-Orlando City SC 5 things: First-place test for Jim Curtin's club

Union-Orlando City SC 5 things: First-place test for Jim Curtin's club

Union at Orlando City SC
7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Union’s roll continued last weekend with a win over D.C. United in extra time, giving Jim Curtin’s club nine points in its last five games and a spot atop the Eastern Conference standings. But that momentum will be tested starting Wednesday night when the Union (5-3-3) make a quick turnaround to take on Orlando City SC (3-3-5) at the Camping World Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Defending first place
At first it was a fluke, then a random hot streak. But at the near quarter mark of the 2016 season, the Union are riding high in first place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s match against Orlando City SC.

“I’ve always believed that you start to get an assessment of your group after about a third of the games,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “That’s a good barometer. We are starting to form an identity as a team that’s very tough to break down defensively and is a very good home team. Now, we need to carry that mentality on to the road.”

That mentality, the one that’s helped the Union to a 5-3-3 record, is about consistency on the defensive side of the ball. The Union have given up only 11 goals in 11 games, good for second in MLS.

“We’re a team that’s going to be tough to score against,” Curtin said. “One goal against per game is good — that’s good goalkeeping and that’s good defending. There’s some things you’re starting to see that maybe define us and give us a little bit of identity.”

With nine points in their last five games, the Union take their hot run on the road, where they haven’t been good. First up, Orlando City SC on Wednesday and then the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids on Saturday. The Union are 1-3-1 away from Talen Energy Stadium.

“Two very hostile places, two very good teams,” Curtin said. “We’ll take every player on our roster on the trip, which is unique. We haven’t done that before. We are a deep team and everyone is going to contribute.”

2. Blake’s availability
The big question for the Union entering their two-game road swing was would star goalkeeper Andre Blake play after being called up to the Jamaican national team for the Copa America tournament? And if so, would he make both games?

Curtin had the answer on Wednesday, stating that Blake will play in both road matches (see story).

“Jamaica’s been excellent with us,” he said. “What is best for both parties is that he is with us up until [June 1]. The Columbus game is the only game he’ll miss.”

And that’s good news for the Union. Blake has been stellar this season, often making game-saving stops a habit on the road to three shutouts and a 76.1 save percentage — placing him among the best in MLS.

“He’s a big part of us getting points,” Curtin said. “Going into two hostile environments knowing that he’s going to be in there is very valuable.”

3. Orlando’s momentum
Despite just one win in their last seven games — a run that includes a 2-1 loss to the Union — Orlando City is still keeping pace in the East by way of three draws over that same span.

But coming off a win over the Montreal Impact, and in the midst of four home games of five matches, the Florida club wants to go from staying afloat to rocketing up the standings.

“Any time we step on the field, we’re looking to get three points,” Orlando’s Kevin Alston said. “For us, we want to build off of last game and move forward.”

But they have to go through the Union first to get that momentum rolling.

“They are a confident team,” Orlando coach Adrian Heath said. “You can see it’s a happy camp. They keep working hard, they don’t give in, it’s gonna be tough because they are coming here with confidence.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: The Union are a better team with Vincent Nogueira in the midfield. Which made it even more concerning when the Frenchman went out with an oblique injury prior to the match against D.C. United last Friday. And though Nogueira isn’t believed to be seriously injured, he, along with Ilsinho, will be a question on Wednesday. “I honestly don’t know whether they’ll be available by Wednesday,” Curtin said. “We’ll assess after Wednesday’s game and see what it looks like for Colorado.” If Nogueira can’t go, the Union will likely go with the same midfield lineup as they did against United, with Warren Creavalle in Nogueira’s spot and Brian Carroll sitting deeper as defensive mid.

Orlando: At 21 years old, Cyle Larin is already one of the most dangerous strikers in the league. He scored 17 goals in 24 starts in his rookie campaign and is continuing his ridiculous pace with six goals in nine starts this season. And the Union have taken notice. “He’s a great striker, one I rate very highly,” Curtin said. “We dodged a bullet because he wasn’t in the last time we played, so it’ll be a real challenge to shut him down, especially in their building.”

5. This and that
• The Union are undefeated against Orlando City all-time with a 2-0-1 record.

• Orlando City’s star midfielder Kaka came alive last weekend, notching two assists in his club’s 2-1 win over the Impact. Heath noted that as Kaka goes, Orlando goes, leaving Curtin to wish the legendary player was invited to the Brazilian national team for the Copa America tournament, missing the match. “Yeah, I’d rather play them without Kaka, for sure,” Curtin laughed.

• Dating back to Aug. 1, 2015, Orlando City is unbeaten at Camping World Stadium. The club is 6-0-6 in its last 12 matches at the venue.

Union come back to beat Atlanta United, move into 1st place in Eastern Conference

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USA Today Images/Derik Hamilton

Union come back to beat Atlanta United, move into 1st place in Eastern Conference

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos assisted each other on late goals as the Philadelphia Union beat Atlanta United 3-1 Saturday night to move into first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Union (15-8-6) and Atlanta United (15-10-3) entered the game tied in points atop the conference standings. Atlanta had its four game winning streak snapped.

Przybylko gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute, finishing a cross from Santos with a hard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan inside the near post.

Santos punched home a cross by Przybylko in the 88th minute, capping the scoring.

Josef Martinez gave Atlanta the lead in the second minute of first half stoppage time. He scored in his 13th straight game, extending his MLS record. Martinez got open on a give-and-go with Darlington Nagbe, slipping past the onrushing goalkeeper and tapping it into the empty net.

The Union's Brenden Aaronson tied it at 1 in the 61st minute, scoring on an over-the-top pass by Haris Medunjanin.

Kacper Przybylko stars as Union top D.C. United

usa_kacper_-przybylko_union.jpg
USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Kacper Przybylko stars as Union top D.C. United

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — Kacper Przybylko had a goal and two assists in a dominant first half and the Philadelphia Union defeated D.C. United 3-1 on Saturday night.

Przybylko scored his 12th goal from point-blank range off a cross from Kail Wagner five minutes in and the Union (14-8-6) were never challenged as they moved within a point of first-place Atlanta.

Brenden Aaronson, who helped set up Przybylko's goal, had the favor returned in the 16th minute. Przybylko slipped the ball down the middle, Aaronson made the turn and then fired from the top of the box for his second goal.

Przybylko made a similar set up for Ilsinho's fifth goal in the 36th minute. Ilsinho took the pass at the top of the box, worked his way through the defense before finding room to score.

DC United (10-10-9) didn't have a shot in the first half. Luciano Acosta bulled his way through the defense for his sixth goal in the 56th minute. United turned the pressure up in the second half with four shots on target but remained in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.