Union view Saturday's friendly as chance to stay sharp

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Union view Saturday's friendly as chance to stay sharp

CHESTER, Pa. -- Between Freddy Adu being traded, Bakary Soumare’s request to leave and a road test against rival New York Red Bulls the following week, an International Friendly against Club Universidad Nacional A.C. on Saturday at PPL Park has taken a back seat in terms of club importance.

But that doesn’t mean the Union won’t try to make the most of it.

“We’re focused on New York,” Union coach John Hackworth admitted. “Normally, I would have done some scouting on Pumas to this point but I haven’t even done that. I’ve let my assistant handle that because a couple things have come up that require my attention. The reality is that our focus is on New York, but this game allows us a competitive situation to play in and see if what we’re doing in training is working on the game field.”

In the past, the Union’s international friendlies have landed in the dead middle of the season, disrupting whatever flow the team possessed. And though facing Mexico City-based club Pumas comes early in 2013, the 2-1-0 Union aren’t afraid.

“From where I’m sitting, I think it’s good for us. It allows us to push through the week but still keep in the rhythm with a game,” said Hackworth, whose club is on a two-game winning streak. “In the past, when you get out of rhythm and you have a big break, it can throw things off. With us playing well you want to continue along the same process and that’s what we’re doing.”

Hackworth noted that the friendly allows his club to still prepare for a game without the late-week stress. He was also excited about getting non-starters, about 10 to be exact, a chance for playing time.

“It allows us to keep in a rhythm and allows us to take pressure off our preparation,” Hackworth said. “Normally, if we were playing a league game, our Thursday and Friday is dedicated to preparing for that opponent. We don’t necessarily have to do that this week. It’s an international friendly and we want to stay in the same rhythm, get a bunch of guys an opportunity that haven’t been on the field a lot yet. It’s good competition and you will see that on Saturday.”

Trying to dissect what the Pumas are bringing to PPL Park wasn’t an interest for Hackworth, who would rather see what his team brings than strategize around a friendly. Giving playing time and evaluating players like Roger Torres, Leo Fernandes, Antoine Hoppenot, Matt Kassel, Jimmy McLaughlin, Aaron Wheeler and Cristhian Hernandez, is what Hackworth is looking for.

Similarly, Pumas, who currently sit sixth in Liga MX, are expected to field a team of mainly academy players.

“They are a good team, they’ve always been a good team,” Hackworth said of Pumas. “It’s an honor and privilege to play against them at PPL. We’ll treat this the way we’ve treated all of our other international friendlies, we’ll go out and try to win the game. But our focus is providing opportunities and improving on things we need to work on. We’ll focus on that more than preparation for what they will be like.”

Although the young Union players will be seeing a bulk of the time, injured team starters might make an appearance. Players like Gabe Farfan and Conor Casey, who have injured hamstrings, could use Saturday as a step back from rehab.

Yet, whether he plays or not, Farfan sees the friendly as a great chance for everyone in the match to prove something.

“Anytime you get to spend time on the field it’s a quality time,” Farfan said. “You can always impress the coaches, whether it’s in training or in a friendly like this. There’s always an opportunity like this that comes along to help your chances at playing time.”

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.