When Orlando City came to Talen Energy Stadium for last year’s season finale against the Union, they gave up six goals. They have kept on conceding ever since.
The Lions’ defense has been toothless this year. They have given up 10 goals through five games, tied for worst in the Eastern Conference and third-worst in MLS as a whole.
If there’s an opponent well-suited to help the Union snap out of their scoring funk, it’s this one. And if there is a reason why Friday’s game (8 p.m., ESPN) can be seen as an early must-win, it’s this one. Even more than the Union’s three-game winless streak, even more than Orlando being a conference opponent, and even more than the rare national TV visit to Chester.
The Union aren’t inclined to give Orlando any bulletin-board material, of course, no matter what the press does. Nor do they need to put any further pressure on themselves, as captain Alejandro Bedoya pointed out Wednesday. But the point is not lost on Bedoya or anyone else.
“I hope we can open up the floodgates,” he said. “I think we’re playing some good football, we’re just not finishing our chances, and in the final third we’re a little bit too — maybe not so much predictable, but not as decisive.”
The statistics showed as much in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. The Union had a 22-9 advantage in shots, enjoyed 61.1 percent of the game’s possession, and completed 589 passes to San Jose’s 382.
“I think you’ve seen, from a style perspective, the way we want to play: pressing high, turning teams over and possessing the ball,” Bedoya said. “We’ve been able to do that, we’ve just got to convert that into goals.”
Even with their defensive struggles, the Lions are on a two-game winning streak. The offense has delivered seven goals in the last two games, a 4-3 win over the New York Red Bulls and a 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers. Lead striker Dom Dwyer has found the net three times.
And as the scorelines indicate, Orlando has a flair for the dramatic. The Red Bulls game had an 86th-minute winner, and the Timbers game had all three Orlando goals in the last 10 minutes — including a Dwyer winner to cap off the comeback.
Bedoya knows Dwyer not just from club games, but from time spent together on the U.S. national team. They were just a few feet apart when Dwyer scored against Panama in last summer’s Gold Cup.
As the U.S.’ captain that day, and as the Union’s captain now, Bedoya admires Dwyer’s tenacity and hustle.
“I think one of the biggest compliments you can give a striker is he’s a pain in the ass to play against,” Bedoya said. “He’s a guy you want on your team, but he’s maybe a jerk on the field. He does whatever he needs to do to get his team to win, and that’s nothing negative against him – it’s just the way he plays.”