Orlando City SC has a chance to play itself into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race this week as it begins a home-and-home series with the conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.
The Lions (6-8-3) have yet to win back-to-back league matches this season but put themselves in position to do so after a 2-0 victory at Columbus on Saturday. Orlando City was outshot 11-3 but made the most of those chances as all three were on target.
Nani set up goals by Christopher Mueller and Tesho Akindele on either side of halftime as the Lions won for the fifth time in seven matches (5-2-0) in all competitions and moved within two points of the final playoff spot in the East.
“We talked before the game about mentality and that mentality tonight,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan told Orlando City’s official website. “Specifically, we talked about every guy working hard for each other, giving a little bit of extra energy, maybe even if we didn’t have it, pulling the next guy’s arm if you had to and covering for your teammate. I think we showed a very high commitment and a very high level of that tonight, and that helped us get the win.”
Nani, who will represent the Lions at the MLS All-Star game in Orlando at the end of the month, recorded his first assists since April 6. Orlando City has recorded a point in eight of 11 matches (5-3-3) in which the former Portugal international has registered a goal or an assist.
The Union (9-5-5) had their lead atop the East cut to one point after a 4-2 loss at New York City FC on Saturday. Goals by Fafa Picault and Kacper Przybylko in the first half-hour staked Philadelphia to a 2-1 halftime lead, but a contentious penalty in the 55th minute that allowed the Bronx Blues to level the match led to a lack of composure. The Union conceded twice in a six-minute span later in the half as they fell to 0-2-1 in their last three matches overall.
“It’s not like I pushed him from behind,” Union talisman Alejandro Bedoya said about his foul that led to the penalty. “It wasn’t even shoulder to shoulder, I was in front of the guy. I just saw the replay right now and the guy throws his head back – it’s a flop.”
“For me, it wasn’t a penalty,” Przybylko added. “He just used his body to save the ball. It’s unbelievable that this is how they won today. But you also have to say after the penalty, we did it bad.”
Philadelphia continues to be without No. 1 keeper Andre Blake, who has helped Jamaica reach the semifinals of the Gold Cup. Matt Freese has been between the sticks in both league matches coming out of the Gold Cup recess and has made eight saves while allowing three goals in the run of play in addition to the two penalties conceded.
Orlando City took four of a possible six points in last year’s two meetings and won 2-0 in Philadelphia as Mueller and Dom Dwyer scored first-half goals. The Union, though, did record a 1-0 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal win at home by making a fourth-minute goal by Bedoya stand.
(Nani photo courtesy Orlando City SC official Twitter account)