The Philadelphia Union return home to PPL Park on Sunday to finish their season against Orlando City, with kickoff slated for 5 PM EST (TV: The Comcast Network). The 5 PM EST kickoff time is part of Major League Soccer Decision Day, where five out of six MLS Eastern Conference matchups will kickoff at the same time. The other MLS Eastern Conference matchup between Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls will kickoff at 7PM EST, the same time as the entire MLS Western Conference.
For Philadelphia, with their season over and nothing to play for, manager Jim Curtin will have the ability to experiment with his lineup for the last 90 minutes of the season.
Looking at center back, Curtin does not have much flexibility. Steven Vitoria, whose loan is up at the end of the season, will be suspended for the season finale due to yellow card accumulation. Vitoria will now be left to hope that over his injury-stricken season, he showed the Philadelphia coaching staff enough to warrant a spot on the 2016 roster. For tomorrow, expect Richie Marquez and Ethan White to occupy the two central positions.
At the fullbacks for the Union, it is likely that Andrew Wenger and either Fabinho or Ray Gaddis will get the start. Wenger had a rough outing last week against Mike Grella and the New York Red Bulls. He will surely want the season to end on a better note than the poor display against New York.
In midfield, Philadelphia will likely line up as usual with Vincent Nogueira and either Brian Carroll or Michael Lahoud to complete the double pivot in front of the defense. Either Carroll or Lahoud will have the tough task of trying to slowdown the legendary Kaka as well as the on-fire Cyle Larin.
Larin, who will surely be the MLS Rookie of the Year, has scored six goals in his last three games. He will be salivating at this makeshift Union defense, especially after their horrific display last week at New York. The duo of Larin and Kaka have accumulated 26 of 46 goals for Orlando City. If Philadelphia wants to end the season on any sort of high note, the defensive portion of the Union’s double-pivot as well as their defensive backline need to slow down this duo.
To complete the midfield, Tranquillo Barnetta, Cristian Madiana and Sebastien Le Toux will likely play as the “3” in Curtin’s 4-2-3-1. The only other possibility is Curtin starting CJ Sapong on the wings or in central attacking midfield. If Sapong starts on the wings, expect Fernando Aristeguieta to step in. He is also on a loan, which will expire at the end of the season. Aristeguieta, even if he does not start, will certainly get minutes in this game to give the coaching staff another look at the Young Venezuelan International.
In the end, Orlando does still have something to play for. If Orlando wins and the New England Revolution lose to New York City FC, plus Orlando makes up the eight-goal difference between them and New England, then Orlando will make the playoffs. It is highly improbable that Orlando will make up the eight-goal differential, but expect them to come out on Decision Day on Sunday with high intensity in an attempt to try.