We're two weeks into the 2015 MLS season, and Orlando City is still undefeated and sitting comfortably tied atop the Eastern Conference and technically only one goal out of first place.
The Lions will be tested in week three by a visiting Vancouver Whitecaps side, which will be looking to build on its 1-0 week two win over the Chicago Fire. They'll have to do it without veteran midfielder Mauro Rosales though, as he picked up an ankle injury against the Fire that should sideline him for a few weeks.
Orlando isn't without its own issues though. Irish international Martin Paterson will miss his third straight match with a hamstring issue. Even more pressing, starters Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita both picked up slight knocks last week -- Rivas during the game at Houston and Higuita in training, forcing him to miss the game -- and both appear doubtful to play on Saturday.
It's impossible not to be optimistic, given the results so far for the Lions though. Still, it's worth noting that Orlando hasn't managed to score a goal yet that didn't require a fair bit of luck. No one is complaining about coming away with points, but my guess would be that many City fans would love to see a true golazo or two from Kaká and the boys this weekend.
Formation and Starting XI:
Orlando City SC: Striker is by far the biggest question mark for Orlando City heading into the match. With Paterson and Rivas hurt, that leaves Danny Mwanga, Bryan Rochez, Cyle Larin, or Pedro Ribeiro as the options to start. Ribeiro was first off the bench against Houston, and his hustle led to Orlando City's goal. The Brazilian is very good with both feet and has the size to be a menace in the box, but he's not a pure striker and lacks the speed of Rivas. The absence of Designated Player Bryan Rochez still remains a bit of a mystery, but Ribeiro seemed to be playing with the starters in practice on Thursday. Maybe this will be the match we get to see rookie Cyle Larin come off the bench?
Regardless of who's up top, the tactics remain largely the same for the Lions. The ball will move through Kaká, and he and Molino will look to combine at the top of the box to create chances. Keep an eye on Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos in this one, though. With a couple games under their belts and Ramos' MLS Team of the Week award from week two, look for a bit more confidence and aggression from the fullbacks going forward than we've seen so far.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Despite a lack of big names that a casual American fan might recognize, Vancouver is a solid team that made the playoffs last year in the tough Western Conference. Their biggest weakness in 2014 was striker, and they addressed that in a big way with the addition of Octavio Rivero, who scored in each of their first two matches.
The Whitecaps are solid throughout the midfield, but Teibert and Laba are a particularly formidable duo in the center of the pitch. Teibert was just included on roster for the Canadian National Team's upcoming friendlies, and Laba is a talented Argentinian DP. Laba handled himself well in week one against Sebastian Giovinco, and he'll spend most of the evening on Saturday marking Kaká. Keep an eye on Adekugbe on the left side as well. He's a skilled, young attacking fullback in the same style as Rafael Ramos that could cause problems for Orlando's back line if he's able to get forward.
Match-up to Watch:
Kaká vs. Matías Laba - It's a well known fact that all Argentinians are born with a innate hatred of Brazilian soccer players, and Kaká would have been the embodiment of that enemy for most of Laba's formative years. Sure, he'll say the right things, but there's no doubt that Laba will relish the chance to mark the Brazilian great. Even ignoring national rivalries, this truly is the most important match-up for both teams. Kaká is the catalyst for the Lions' offense, and Laba will be the man tasked with keeping him contained.
Aurelien Collin - The Frenchman has earned a red card in each of his last two matches with Orlando City. He'll undoubtedly be challenged again on Saturday by Rivero, who has been among the best strikers in the league so far this season. Lions Head Coach Adrian Heath was unequivocal in his support, and he left no doubt early in the week that Collin would return to the starting XI. Still, you can bet there will be a few very nervous Orlando fans every time the hulking center back goes in for a tackle.
I have to make a point to eat some crow here, as I didn't think Orlando would be able to take any points against a veteran Houston team last week. I got the tie right for the opener though, so I'm batting .500 for the season.
I'm feeling much more optimistic this weekend though, as Orlando has momentum and the support of at least 24,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl. Toss in the fact that Vancouver has a six hour plane ride down to the sunshine state, and I think this is the week that the Lions finally score a few goals without any lucky bounces.
Final Result: 3-1 Orlando City
What are your thoughts headed into Orlando's third match? Let us know in the comment section. Be sure to join in on our Match Day Open Thread 90 minutes (or so) prior to kickoff!
The match is scheduled for Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised locally on Sun Sports.