For Orlando City (12-13-8, 44 points) , a historic inaugural season will come to an end in Chester, PA, on Sunday afternoon. Unless it doesn't.
The Lions are still mathematically alive in their quest for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but they'll need to make up a minus-eight goal differential on the New England Revolution in order to make the jump. In any case, there's no reason for hard feelings as Orlando takes on the already-eliminated Philadelphia Union (9-17-7, 34 points) in the regular season finale.
These teams first met back on Aug. 8 for a 0-0 snoozefest at the Citrus Bowl. But the only player who kept the Lions in that match won't be in goal on Sunday, as Tally Hall is out for this one with a knee injury. Here's a look at his handiwork from the last time these clubs locked horns...
With Hall out, let's take a look at who else we can expect to see on the pitch in Chester this weekend.
Starting XI and Lineup Prediction:
A couple changes to note for Adrian Heath's squad. Josh Ford will make his first MLS start Sunday, after making his MLS debut in relief of the injured Tally Hall last week in the closing minutes against New York City FC, playing six minutes plus stoppage time. He caught one cross but wasn't forced to make any saves. Ford spent some time on loan with Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL this season, making 16 starts. He allowed 25 goals and made 38 saves for a 1.56 goals-against average. One thing in Ford's favor is that the Union are a club that has struggled to find the back of the net this season.
In addition, look for Rafael Ramos to return from the scary injury he suffered in a collision with Tommy Redding against Montreal. He should provide the Lions with a boost on defense and combine with Brek Shea for an intriguing combination along the right flank.
Look for Heath to experiment with Shea on the right wing, as Carlos Rivas gets another start up top in the attacking midfield. Rivas and Luke Boden will work the left flank. To shake things up, you may see Shea and Rivas switch sides. If results are going Orlando City's way but goals are needed to swing that goal differential deficit, look for Bryan Rochez to come on, potentially for one of the defensive midfielders, as the Lions press for goals.
With the playoffs not an option for Philly, Jim Curtin should trot a similar lineup to last week, as he looks for pieces to build on next season.
Steven Vitoria is out with yellow card accumulation, so expect to see fellow defender Ethan White slot in to replace him. As always, the guys to watch for the Union are C.J. Sapong and Sebastain Le Toux, who have comined for 16 goals this season. Le Toux scored the club's lone goal in a loss to the New York Red Bulls last week. They'll get the start up top for Philadelphia, as the Union look to spoil any hope Orlando City has of a miraculous playoff berth.
But the true danger man is league-leading assist man Cristian Maidana, who has 15 helpers on the year to sit tied with Toronto's Giovinco. The Lions will have to be alert to Maidana as soon as he crosses midfield.
Three Questions for Orlando City:
- How much will Adrian Heath look to go for it? The Lions need to make up an eight goal differential to surpass New England (which also needs to lose) -- the soccer equivalent of needing to block a punt on fourth down with seconds left in a football game. In other words, it can happen, but it's not very likely. It will be interesting to see if Heath adjusts his strategy in this one
- What will a Brek Shea-Rafael Ramos pairing look like? These two guys haven't played on the same flank much this season, but you have to admit it's an intriguing combination. Both Shea and Ramos possess game-breaking speed, but neither has found the back of the net this season. Could a potential partnership on the right side of the field change that?
- Can Ford make a positive impression? No pressure on the backup keeper, but Orlando needs a shutout to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. He's had some decent games in the NASL this season, but how will he hold up against a full strength MLS squad?