It's finally come, folks. Two weeks has never dragged so long, and tonight our Orlando City Lions march onto the Citrus Bowl pitch for the last time in this 2015 regular season. Lining up opposite them will be the club that was here to start off the season, New York City FC.
A 5-3 loss was the result when these teams most recently met in late July, playing on the laughable NYC pitch. With the pressure to earn three points in the midst of this unlikely playoff run reaching critical mass, let's take a look at what lessons were learned from that mid-summer match.
Cyle Larin Needs the Ball
When it comes to top performances of the season, Cyle's hat trick has to be on the short list. Seamlessly running through the defense, Kid Fantastic somehow both calmly and frenetically put himself in position to receive service and swiftly converted that service into goals.
Not often can you score a hat trick and lose, but unfortunately that was the case in this one. With the defense surely adjusting to the impact the rookie star had, look for Larin to come out aggressive and physical early, imposing his will on the match and setting the tone.
New York City's Star Players do not Need the Ball
Right. Easier said than done.
This club has the sort of talent that should be raising it to the elite tier of MLS. Between David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and Mix Diskerud, and the emergence of Kwadwo Poku playing next to them, the roster reads like an MLS team made in the FIFA video game series.
It doesn't always play like one, however.
Last match, the stars ran wild facing a 5-4-1 formation that featured no Cristian Higuita. His absence was strongly felt, as the attack of the soccer Yanks was fast and furious. With Higuita returning, we can expect to see his usual eagerness to halt the attack in front of the home crowd in such a meaningful game.
The Pitch at Yankee Stadium is Stupid
Seriously though. There have been a lot of things in this MLS season that we could point to and think, "Wow, that was weird. Oh well, just an MLS quirk." But that pitch? I hate that I even call it a pitch. It's a sorry excuse for a professional playing surface.
With the return of Higuita, an actual professional soccer surface and a packed house Friday night, look for the positives to outweigh the negatives, and Orlando City to leave with three points.