With all the hype leading up to last weekend's opening match against NYCFC, it's a bit of a shock to the system that Orlando City SC has such a short week before traveling to take on the Houston Dynamo.
That's just where we find ourselves though, as we'll see a rematch of the Lions' disastrous 3-0 defeat in their final preseason match at the Carolina Challenge Cup. Orlando earned two red cards in that contest, though they didn't look particularly competitive even before Aurelien Collin was shown the first of the two in the 26th minute.
Houston is projected to be a mid-table team this year, and the Dynamo are coming off an opening-week, 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC. The win was barely deserved though, as keeper Tyler Deric put on a man-of-the-match-caliber performance to keep the Crew off the board (seriously, it was ridiculous).
Orlando is coming off Sunday's 1-1 draw with rival New York City FC, in what was both teams' inaugural MLS match. It will be a challenge this week for Head Coach Adrian Heath to keep the intensity level up for the Lions after the months of hype that led up to opening day.
Formation and Starting XI:
Orlando City SC: We know there will be at least one major change from the week one lineup for the Lions, thanks to center back Aurelien Collin's red card against New York. I'd also expect Honduran DP Bryan Rochez to get his shot up top this week in place of Carlos Rivas. We'll know more by Friday, but my best guess is that Rivas stays on the pitch at left wing, starting in place of Lewis Neal.
Depth will also factor here, as five days between matches is a short turnaround. Guys like Tony Cascio, Darwin Ceren, and Luke Boden, who didn't see the pitch on Sunday, might be given an opportunity against Houston. Cristian Higuita was knocked around a good deal by NYCFC, so it's possible that we'll see USL veteran Ceren next to Okugo to start the match.
They say the best defense is a good offense, and that will definitely be the case on Friday for the Lions. The Dynamo have veteran, attack-minded wide players, and asking Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos to defend them for 90 minutes is a recipe for disaster. If the Orlando fullbacks can be dangerous going forward though, they'll force DaMarcus Beasley and Kofi Sarkodie to stay home and defend. That might be the Lions' best chance at getting a result.
Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo are a bit of a mystery, in that we really know little about new coach Owen Coyle's MLS managerial style. Born in Scotland, Coyle had an extensive career in the UK, most notably spending two years with Bolton in the Premier League. He went on the coach English sides Bolton, Burnley, and Wigan, though he was most recently sacked by the latter.
Coyle's 4-4-2 is not as well defined as Coach Heath's 4-2-3-1 system, which could be a good or a bad thing. All four midfielders can get up field and threaten in attack, but neither wing brings the speed to seriously challenge opposing fullbacks. Brad Davis has perhaps the best left foot in Major League Soccer, and any team is putting themselves in peril by allowing him space to cross the ball. Luis Garrido is skilled enough in attack to occupy Amobi Okugo, so it may fall to fullback Rafael Ramos to mark Davis.
Matchup to Watch:
Will Bruin vs. Orlando City CBs: Orlando will be without Aurelien Collin for this one, who is shockingly the only center back on the roster with any MLS experience to speak of. The Lions will likely trot out Seb Hines and Sean St. Ledger, though we may see rookie Conor Donovan as well. Hines looked solid against NYCFC, and St. Ledger was consistent in preseason, but communication certainly has to be a concern.
Bruin is a very good player, and he provides a more dangerous aerial threat than anything NYCFC had to offer. He's racked up 35 goals in 111 league appearances for the Dynamo, and will be looking to make his mark this season to contend for a spot on the USMNT this summer. At 6-foot-2, he's a tough mark for any defender. The threat only increases with the inch-perfect service that Brad Davis is capable of providing.
Stamina: Both teams will be playing Friday on short rest in just the second week of the regular season. The Lions have it worse, having just played Sunday, however Houston was run ragged chasing a dominant Columbus side on Saturday.
Houston has an older core in Davis, Beasley, and Ricardo Clark, so there has to be some concern there for the Dynamo. On the other hand, Orlando got only five days rest, and few players on the roster have experience with travelling the ~850 miles it takes to get to Houston. Regardless of the final score, I would expect more choppy, early-season MLS play from both sides.
I hate to start the season off on a down note, but an away match against a veteran-heavy Houston side was never going to be an easy proposition. Add in the fact that the Lions will be starting two center backs with a combined MLS experience of one match, and it's hard to be hopeful.
Orlando should be more competitive than in the teams' previous meeting in Charleston, but in the end I don't think it will be enough for the Lions to pick up any points on the road.
Final Result: 0-2 Houston Dynamo
What are your thoughts headed into Orlando's second match? Let us know in the comment section. Be sure to join in on our Match Day Open Thread 90 minutes prior to kickoff!
The match is scheduled for Friday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised nationally on UniMas, with coverage starting at 7:00 p.m. EST.