Orlando City SC News

Conference-best Union will be Orlando's biggest test of the summer

Christopher Adams
Jul 16, 2022; Chester, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder D  niel Gazdag (6)
Jul 16, 2022; Chester, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder D niel Gazdag (6) / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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At this point in the MLS season, the Supporters' Shield race is typically down to just a few teams, or in the case of last year just one.

As it stands, four teams have a realistic shot to hoist the regular season championship in 2022. Los Angeles FC and Austin FC are cruising in the Western Conference after both missed the playoffs last year. The reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC are also within striking distance, though with the recent loss of head coach Ronny Deila and impending transfer of Taty Castellanos could hurt them down the stretch.

The other team with a good chance to compete for the Shield are the Philadelphia Union.

Philly has ascended to the top of MLS, asserting itself as one of the premier organizations in the country. The front office makes savvy signings and sells on top prospects for good money, while the robust academy and Jim Curtin's coaching help get the most out of those prospects and quality arrivals.

This season is another fantastic campaign for Curtin's men. The Union sit at the top of the Eastern Conference with 39 points through 21 games. Their strong first half of the season is largely due to a league-best 15 goals allowed. Best XI goalkeeper Andre Blake, the best backline in MLS and a Best XI defensive midfielder make Philly a near impenetrable wall.

The defense starts from the top with an aggressive pressing system, limiting opposition chances and manufacturing transition for the Union. While their offense is not as elite as the defense, they've gotten quality performances up front, especially from Hungarian playmaker Daniel Gazdag and former Inter Miami striker Julian Carranza, who have 16 goals between the two of them.

This frightening team makes for a daunting task Saturday night for Orlando City. It's no secret that the Lions have struggled to find consistent form all season, and especially after the international break in June.

Last week's draw in Atlanta wasn't a terrible result, but definitely didn't inspire much hope about the team's direction at the midway point of the season. Orlando isn't in a do-or-die position by any stretch, but any chance of hosting a playoff game and making a serious challenge for MLS Cup is definitely in question right now.

A win over the conference-leading Union would go a long, long way in reminding the fan base and league as a whole that this is a roster built to win right now. There's no such thing as a must-win game in July, especially when you're already in great shape for the postseason, but for the Lions to prove themselves as an elite group, this would be the perfect starting point.

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