Daniel's return gives Union a roster boost

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Daniel's return gives Union a roster boost

CHESTER, Pa. -- Arriving back in Philadelphia on Monday following a CONCACAF Gold Cup stint with Trinidad and Tobago, Keon Daniel has rejoined the Union.

And Union coach John Hackworth couldn’t be happier.

“I think it’s great to have Keon back,” said Hackworth, whose club travels to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps on Saturday. “He’s one of the best possession players we have. He’s skillful and his feet are excellent. He has such a calm demeanor about him, nothing rattles him. To be composed on the field under pressure, that’s important, especially going to Vancouver. It’s good to have him back, we’re going to find a way to integrate him into the team. He’s looked really good this week.”

Daniel, the Union’s starting, attacking center midfielder, returns from a successful run with his national team, which impressively made it to the tournament quarterfinals after going 1-1-1 and advancing through Group B.

“Before we started the tournament, we came together as a team and said if we made it to the quarterfinals, it would be a great achievement,” Daniel said. “We haven’t been in major tournaments for awhile and football has been down in our country. Showing we could, that should put things back on the right track.”

During Daniel’s absence, the Union went 1-1-3 and cycled a combination of Leo Fernandes and Michael Farfan at the center-mid position. Though Daniel could have helped solidify that area, all he could do was follow along from afar.

“That’s my team, for sure,” Daniel said. “I have an MLS app, so I sat up at night and though I watched some of the games, I got all the updates. What else could I do, that’s my team. I kept supporting the boys.”

Yet, it’s still unknown whether Daniel will help support his boys on the field against the Whitecaps. With Fernandes and Farfan pushing for the job, along with a healthy Kleberson now in the mix, Daniel isn’t a guarantee to start on Saturday.

“Whatever the coach decides, I’m fine with it,” Daniel said. “I’ll just keep working hard. If he puts me in to play, I’ll be the same player I was before I left. If he says I sit, I’ll sit.”

Fabinho gives Union options
When the Union acquired Fabinho on June 28, not much was expected of the Brazilian left back. But after an assist in his debut against Chivas USA and a strong 11 minutes last Saturday, the Union may have found the left wing bench threat they have been looking for.

“Him playing at left mid has given us a boost, and he’s done well,” Hackworth said. “We feel a lot more comfortable putting him in an attacking position. But he’s a true left back, so we have cover in the back if need be. He’s a versatile player in that whether he’s off the bench or in the starting lineup, he gives us the ability to make a couple moves with one player.”

Even the Union players are taking notice.  

“He’s an attacking fullback by trade, so when he moves higher up the field he doesn’t have to focus on defensive responsibilities as much,” Union defender Amobi Okugo said. “It’s good to see him make a difference.”

Union suffer 1st loss of season to Cyle Larin, Orlando City

Union suffer 1st loss of season to Cyle Larin, Orlando City

BOX SCORE

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cyle Larin scored twice, including the game-winner in the 73rd minute, and Orlando City won its second straight to open the season 2-1 over the Union on Saturday.

With the score tied at one with 15 minutes left, Larin found his way behind the middle of the Union defense thanks to a streaking pass from Carlos Rivas and beat goalkeeper Andre Blake for the game-winner. The forward has accounted for all three Orlando City goals this season.

After Larin gave Orlando City (2-0-0) the lead in the 39th minute, C.J. Sapong found the back of the net with a header to tie the score in the 52nd minute. The Union (0-1-2) had a final opportunity to tie it in the 93rd minute, but Alejandro Bedoya's header was denied by Joe Bendik.

The Union are winless in their last 10 matches dating back to last season.

Orlando, whose March 11 game against New England was postponed due to extreme cold, was playing its first game without injured captain Kaka. Kaka injured his hamstring in the season opener with New York City FC.

Union-Orlando City 5 Things: Bracing for the Kaka-less Lions

Union-Orlando City 5 Things: Bracing for the Kaka-less Lions

Union at Orlando City SC 
Saturday 7:30 p.m., The Comcast Network

After two straight draws to start the 2017 season, the undefeated and winless Union (0-0-2) hit the road to face an Orlando City SC (1-0-0) team that will be missing one of the league's marquee players. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Striker status
After starting striker Jay Simpson scored 11 minutes into his home debut last week, he was forced to the locker room with an injury -- and then to the hospital after he frighteningly began coughing up blood. 

Luckily for the Union, head coach Jim Curtin says the injury -- a bruised lung -- doesn't appear to be serious. But considering he hasn't practiced most of the week, it seems doubtful he'll play in Orlando.

"He's a tough kid," Curtin said. "He probably had another goal or two in him, so that was disappointing. But injuries are part of the game and he'll have to recover now."

The Union are fortunate to have a more-than-serviceable replacement in C.J. Sapong, who came in for Simpson and scored the game-tying goal in last week's 2-2 draw with reigning MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC. 

"I'm happy with where C.J. is," Curtin said. "We know what he's all about. He'll fight for the Union badge, he'll give everything he has every day in training, whether he's starting or coming off the bench."

2. No Kaka
Just like Simpson, Orlando City SC star Kaka exited in the 11th minute of his home debut two weeks ago. But his situation is more serious as the Brazilian midfielder will miss a few weeks with a hamstring injury.

It's naturally a tough blow for Orlando but the Lions have an interesting option to replace him in Giles Barnes, a proven MLS player who assisted on Orlando's only goal in their season-opening 1-0 win over New York City FC. 

"He brings an element of speed," Curtin said. "He's a dynamic player, dangerous. And he's at a new club so he's looking to impress his head coach."

Midfielder Matias Perez Garcia will likely also see an expanded role with Kaka out, teaming with Barnes, Carlos Rivas and 2015 Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin in a dangerous four-man attacking front.

"Cycle is a great presence," Curtin said. "Twelve yards in, he's as good of a finisher as we have in our league."

3. No Mickey Mouse environment
Due to a weird scheduling quirk, the Lions will play their second straight game in their sparkling new stadium without having yet to leave Orlando. That's because their scheduled game in New England last week was postponed due to extreme cold.

It's hard to know if having a week off will hurt their momentum or if staying home will prove to be an ideal start to their 2017 campaign. Either way, Curtin is expecting a daunting atmosphere in Orlando -- even if the team is excited to get away from the cold.

"Everyone thinks about Disney and thinks it's a happy, smiley, kid-friendly place," the Union coach said. "I can tell you the Orlando fans are an intimidating group -- nothing Mickey Mouse about their group of supporters, that's for sure. 

"It's one of the few places where I get a police escort in and out of the building, I'll just put it that way. The police officers are actually very friendly, which is good."

4. Keep an eye on
Joe Bendik:
Aside from Larin and maybe new center back Jonathan Spector, no one was better in Orlando's opener than Bendik, who made a few sparkling saves, including the top one of the week. Between him and Union standout Andre Blake, we could be looking at a game with a few highlight-reel stops.

Derrick Jones: The 20-year-old defensive midfielder has had a terrific start to the season in his first two MLS games. But this will be another stiff test for Jones, who Curtin said is drawing praise from around the league, including coaches and execs from Toronto. "He's an exciting player in a position where I think the work sometimes goes unnoticed," Curtin said. "He's doing it in a way where a lot of people are taking notice in a position that maybe isn't the most glamorous."

5. This and that
• After missing the first two games with a hamstring injury, Ilsinho is expected to be available to make his season debut. He'd likely come off the bench with Fabian Herbers cementing his role on the right wing.

• Both of the Union's previous two games in Orlando have ended in draws but Philly leads the all-time series, 2-1-2. 

• Dating back to last season, the Union are winless in their last nine regular-season matches.

• Sarpong's goal last week was his fourth off the bench for the Union. Only four Union players have ever scored more off the bench with former super-sub Antoine Hoppenot leading the way with seven.