The heat is rising in Orlando. As the dog days of summer begin to wear on the club, Orlando City looks to turn their lackluster run of form this month as they get set to host the Philadelphia Union, which holds a one-point advantage on the Lions heading into play on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Exploria Stadium.
Orlando burst out of the June break with nine points from three games to finish the month, but have been anything but that formidable side since then, struggling through July with a draw and a pair of losses to this point, most recently grabbing a 1-1 result in Toronto this past weekend.
This will be the first time this season that Oscar Pareja‘s side will see the Union, last season’s Supporters’ Shield winners and currently holding second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Lions have been hampered by a handful key absences over the last month, stemming from both international team duty and injuries throughout the squad that has drastically cut into the depth of the roster.
“First objective in the last couple of weeks is trying to re-unite the group,” Pareja said during a media availability on Tuesday. “After many challenges that we had had during the last four weeks in having players in the nursery or having players in the national team. Little by little we just get in there and are looking forward just to having the whole group available soon, so we’re getting great in this opportunity after the good result in Toronto and a good performance, so we’re optimistic.”
Pareja’s comments included updates and many of those missing players:
- “Antonio Carlos has been training much better and more comfortable,” according to Pareja. He’s optimistic to have the centerback available against Philadelphia.
- Ruan is close to returning. Pareja says that the main thing keeping him off the field during games right now is getting his fitness back after the long time on the sidelines. “It’s not about healing his injury.”
- Sebas Mendez‘s injury is “nothing serious.” He’s dealing with a bad bruise on his leg that they want to heal, leaving him doubtful for Thursday’s game against Philly.
- Chris Mueller has been dealing with a knock during the last couple of weeks, according to Pareja, which has led to the coaching staff managing his minutes, but that issue appears to be clearing up now.
The Lions are also close to gaining defender Emmanuel Mas, who was signed last week, as they await the final paperwork of his deal to be completed. He is training with the team in the meantime and should be available to play as soon as he becomes eligible. That would give Orlando, in addition to the impending return of Ruan, some much-needed backline depth.
As for the Union, on top of recently selling Brendan Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg, Jim Curtin‘s side is missing three players due to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, in goalkeeper Andre Blake, center forward Corey Burke and right back Alvas Powell. With just one loss in their last 11 games, Philadelphia has been a tough side to face this season, despite the three-game winless streak that was snapped this past weekend with a win over D.C. United.
Against Orlando, the Union are unbeaten in their last four meetings.
Thursday night’s match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will air nationally on ESPN.
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