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The Iron Lion: Luke Boden could finally get his MLS opportunity against Montreal

With the Lions decimated by international call-ups and injuries, Adrian Heath will rely on longtime defender Luke Boden to lead a makeshift Orlando City side into battle on Saturday. Boden's MLS debut will be a huge moment in the career of this longtime Lion.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Citrus Bowl was nearly empty.

Just minutes earlier, thousands of Orlando City fans had been chanting and singing, trying to will their Lions to a goal that would never come. But after Octavio Rivero's 96th minute header gave the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps a 1-0 victory, only a few purple-clad fans remained in the cavernous stadium.

On the field, a few Orlando bench players who hadn't seen action that night were put through their paces by an assistant coach. Young prospects like Bryan Rochez and Conor Donovan ran wind sprints, while backup goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. did planks on the sideline.

They were joined by a man who looked out of place among the youth of Orlando City's roster.

Luke Boden ran just as hard as the rest of the reserves, but it was impossible for the English left back to completely blend in. Standing at 6-foot-2, he's an imposing figure and, at 26, is several years older than anyone else on Orlando City's bench.

In a way, it makes complete sense that Boden finds himself here, because he's been a member of Orlando City for as long as they've been a team.

Joining the newly-formed squad in 2011, Boden quickly established himself as the anchor of Adrian Heath's back line and helped lead the Lions to two USL Pro championships. Logging almost 7,500 minutes in an Orlando City shirt, Boden was a fixture in the starting lineup of the club for four seasons. He appeared to be in line for a starting job ahead of the team's inaugural MLS season, but the signing of USMNT veteran Brek Shea put those plans on hold.

Boden has watched from the sidelines as Orlando City played its first three games as an MLS club. But now, with seven players away on international duty, chances are good that Boden will make his MLS debut when the Lions face Montreal on Saturday.

Orlando City's roster issues ahead of this Saturday's game have been well-documented. Heath and his staff will have to get creative in assembling their lineup for the match, but Boden's role should be rather straightforward. He will likely slot into the starting XI at left back, a position he's occupied so many times before in City's USL Pro days.

Shea's speed and ability to control the ball are uncanny for a 6-foot-3 player, and he's done nothing to indicate that he's undeserving of the starting job. But Boden should have no trouble filling in on Saturday and giving Heath and the coaching staff something to think about on defense moving forward.

A midfielder by trade (like Shea), Boden made the switch to left back when he debuted with the Lions in 2011. This experience playing higher up the pitch makes Boden an invaluable addition to Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation, in which both the left and right back are expected to play up and get involved offensively while the two defensive midfielders provide cover.

There's probably no one on earth who understands Heath's system better than Boden, and he'll need every bit of that experience on Saturday.

Because facing the Impact will be like looking in a mirror for the veteran defender.

Montreal also runs a 4-2-3-1 and will be looking to get their their offense involved after losing promising young striker Cameron Porter for the season with an ACL tear last week. While Aurélien Collin and friends will have their hands full stopping star midfielder Ignacio Piatti, it will be up to Boden to shut down Montreal's other big offensive threat, MLS journeyman Dominic Oduro.

The right-footed Oduro will try and use his speed to get loose on the left flank, where he could expose a makeshift Orlando defense if Boden is unable to contain him. With both Shea and right back Rafael Ramos out on international duty, look for Montreal to attack the wings and try and get Boden on his heels early.

It will also be important for Boden to make an impact offensively and provide service along the wings. Kevin Molino and possibly Carlos Rivas will be out, so Saturday seems like an unlikely moment for Orlando to emerge from their scoring slump. But if they hope to have any chance of finding the back of the net, Boden will have to play some part in the offensive revival.

No one will mistake Montreal for an offensive juggernaut, as the Impact have yet to score a goal this season and are missing two of their best offensive players in Porter and Justin Mapp, but Boden will have his work cut out for him in his first MLS appearance.

It's a bit odd to talk about the "debut" of a player whose appeared in 87 games for Orlando City. But if Boden can rely on his experience and stifle the Impact on the road, his 88th game could be one he'll never forget.