Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin admits he is in a luxurious position ahead of Thursday’s trip to Orlando City SC given the array of midfield options he has to choose from.
Second-placed Union travel to Exploria Stadium for a big showdown with fellow high-flyers Orlando, who are one point and one place below them in the Eastern Conference.
Curtin’s side beat D.C. United 2-1 last weekend and they have been boosted by the return of Jamiro Monteiro from his automatic one-game suspension for the clash with Orlando.
That leaves the visitors with Monteiro, Alejandro Bedoya, Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag and Jose Martinez to choose from in central midfield, giving Curtin a selection headache of a good kind.
“It’s a great luxury for any coach to have,” he said. “We’re going to need to use all five of them, certainly in these two games. Someone will be the odd man out.
“It gives us real flexibility within our group. Then it comes down to the opponent you’re playing, the strengths and weaknesses of that opponent, and how you want to set up.”
Orlando boss Oscar Pareja may also consider changes for this midweek match after drawing 1-1 with Toronto FC last time out to make it one point from the last nine on offer.
Despite dropping points against Toronto, whose results have picked up under interim coach Javier Perez, Pareja is pleased with the way his side responded almost instantly to falling behind.
“I think it was a good match for us. It’s a great reaction from our players against a good rival who was playing at home again after a long time,” he said.
“Obviously going on the road to take a point, you should be happy. I’d be happier if we scored a couple from our chances, but we’ll take the point and prepare for Thursday.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Orlando City SC – Nani
After going two games without a goal – a real drought by his own high standards – Nani was back on the scoresheet with a penalty against Toronto last weekend.
That was the former Manchester United winger’s seventh MLS goal of the campaign and his 28th in Orlando City colours, leaving him 16 short of Cyle Larin in the list of the club’s record goalscorers.
Philadelphia Union – Sergio Santos
Santos responded to being left out of the side to face the New York Red Bulls by netting an equaliser for the Union from the substitutes’ bench.
The Brazilian forward followed that up with another goal and an assist in the win against D.C. United. After the birth of his second child this week, Santos will head into this game on a real high.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– The Union are unbeaten in four straight matches (W1 D3) against Orlando for the second time, also avoiding defeat in the first four meetings between the teams (W2 D2). The Lions recorded three wins in the four meetings between those Union runs (L1).
– Orlando City suffered their first home loss of the season in their last match at Exploria Stadium, losing 2-1 to the Red Bulls. The Lions had conceded just one goal in their first five home matches this season.
– Philadelphia have lost just one of their last 11 matches (W6 D4) dating back to early May, though the Union are winless in four straight away games (D3 L1) since a 1-0 win over D.C. United on May 23.
– The Union are one of two teams (along with D.C. United) that Nani has faced three times in MLS and not scored against. He has found the net at least once against all six teams he has faced more than three times in his MLS career.
– Santos has been involved in all three Union goals (two goals, one assist) over the last two matches after contributing to just one goal in his previous 13 appearances.