After last night's undeserving 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, we here at The Mane Land realize it is never too early to start looking forward to the next chance to don our purple and take three points --especially when the starting 11 for the next game will look somewhat different.
Orlando City's next fixture will be away to the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium on March 28. The significance of this date for Orlando City fans is that the game lies smack dab during a week on the FIFA calendar reserved for official or friendly matches.
For those new(er) to the game, this means that if an Orlando City player is called up by their national team squad, they will be unavailable for selection by Orlando on game days. Now, as an Orlando City fan, you are probably telling yourself that's unfair and how come that doesn't happen to EPL teams? Well the fact of the matter is that Major League Soccer, unlike virtually all other soccer leagues in the world, continues to play league matches during FIFA events (Note: MLS *did* take a two-week break during the 2014 World Cup, but only during the group stages).
So, armed with this bit of soccerpaedia, what does that mean to Orlando City fans for the game against the Impact? Or D.C United, six days later? It means that in all likelihood, the following six players will be unavailable for selection for Montreal or may get limited minutes against D.C. United:
Brek Shea (U.S.A.)
Cyle Larin (Canada)
Darwin Ceren (El Salvador)
Kevin Molino (Trinidad & Tobago)Conor Donovan (US U-20's)
Estrela (Portugal U-20's)
Rafael Ramos (Portugal U-20's)
Of the above seven players, Molino, Shea and Ramos have all started all three of Orlando City's MLS games and have been part of the core engine of the the team. The unavailability of Darwin Ceren will also be a big loss, as he did a great job filling in for the injured Cristian Higuita in the Houston game and reaffirmed Head Coach Adrian Heath's belief that he can actually compete at this level.
The downside of these players being unavailable for selection is that the partnerships and play that has been developing on the field (Molino and Kaka; Shea's and Ramos's style of play) will not be on display against Montreal and will be a big detriment for the team.
The upside is that the Montreal Impact will also lose three players of their own (defenders Laurent Ciman, Maxim Tissot, and Ambroise Oyongo) plus Orlando City will be able to give some of their squad depth players the opportunity to get first team minutes and some MLS playing time against a team yet to win this year in regular season play, as well as allowing those players an opportunity to play for a place in the starting 11.
Getting MLS experience early on will be vital for Orlando City over the long haul. With the MLS season being significantly longer than the USL season, and with the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup this year meaning that at least two of the six listed above will be unavailable for approximately a month from mid-May to mid-June, Heath needs to start planning now for those upcoming eventualities.
The enforced changes against Montreal will be good insight for the fans into how the club will fare as the season progresses and it will highlight either the strength, or lack thereof, of the Orlando City squad for the 2015 season.
With the above seven players missing, I expect the 18-man squad to be comprised of the following:
Goalkeepers: Donovan Ricketts, Earl Edwards. Jr.
Defenders: Luke Boden, Aurelien Collin, Seb Hines, Tommy Redding, Sean St. Ledger, Tyler Turner
Midfielders: Eric Avila, Tony Cascio, Cristian Higuita, Kaká, Amobi Okugo, Lewis Neal, Carlos Rivas
Forwards: Pedro Ribeiro, Bryan Rochez, Danny Mwanga
With my expected starting eleven to look something like this:
For those of you who are paying attention, you will see that I've put Tyler Turner into the starting lineup. Turner won the team's Rookie of the Year award during the team's final USL season in 2014 and he could certainly be a stop-gap alternative until Ramos returns from international duty. Heath could also potentially move Hines across to the right back spot and play St. Ledger at center-back, however I am sure that Heath will want to continue to develop the current center-back partnership that is developing between Collin and Hines and not break it up for a single game.
Luke Boden is a slam dunk for covering Brek Shea at left back. Bods has consistency of play coming from USL, and although he hasn't been on the field this season, we know from experience that he can perform in a pinch.
The reason I picked up Eric Avila is two-fold: Ribeiro is no longer available, as he will in all likelihood be playing up front; and Avila was Heath's 82nd-minute substitution for taking off Kaká against the Houston Dynamo in Week 2. He was brought in to shore up the midfield and maintain the score advantage and hopefully this will replay for him in Week 4.
Clearly, the opportunity to see our Lions getting international exposure is a tremendous thrill, especially for the majority of us who still can't believe we've made it to MLS. But these are also the harsh realities and trade-offs of being in the big leagues with world class players: it's expected that we'll have to forgo some of our best talent for a couple of games in order to advance soccer, for the greater good, despite it leaving the club open to the exposure of losing points.