After a two-week road swing that saw a great win and a devastating defeat, Orlando City (2-3-2) finally returns home to take on star-studded Toronto FC in the Citrus Bowl Sunday evening.
To say that Toronto (1-4-0) have yet to start firing on all cylinders this season might be an understatement, but they feature three of the most recognizable names in Major League Soccer in Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco. They've now lost four in a row, including a 3-2 defeat last week against the surprising FC Dallas, in a game that featured a three-and-a-half hour rain delay.
All three of their Designated Players are capable of moments of individual brilliance, though Toronto will truly become a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference if head coach Greg Vanney can establish chemistry between them in his system. Orlando City's back line will certainly be in for a challenge on Sunday night.
On the bright side, things can't possibly go worse for Orlando than they did last week. In their worst defeat of the season, the Lions played nearly 60 minutes down a man and lost to the Columbus Crew, 3-0.
Right back Rafael Ramos will miss this weekend's match due to that red card, and it will likely be up to either Sean St. Ledger or Tyler Turner to fill in on the back line. It's a huge loss for Orlando, as Ramos had been a surprise top performer for the Lions so far this year.
Formation and Starting XI:
Orlando City: While we have seen the Lions operate out of a 4-3-3 formation in their last two matches against Portland and Columbus, OCSC Head Coach Adrian Heath reiterated his preference to use three attacking midfielders once again on this week's Coach's Show.
"Everybody knows what my preferred system is," Heath stated. "I like playing 4-2-3-1, and if we get everybody fit and well, I think the chances are we'll go back to it."
Look for Orlando to get back to the standard 4-2-3-1, with Carlos Rivas deployed on the left wing and Ricardo Kaká slotted back into his No. 10 role in the center of the midfield. Heath likes to win the numbers game in the middle of the field, where the ball is spent for the majority of games. With Toronto likely playing three players in the central midfield, look for Heath to play three in the middle of the pitch and try to get overloads in this area as he usually does by pinching Kevin Molino inside and also using his fullbacks out wide.
Toronto FC: Heath also said on his call-in show that he expects Toronto to come out with a defensive mindset on Sunday evening. Given the fact that TFC has battled inconsistencies at the back and conceded 11 goals through its first five games, playing not to get beat seems like a reasonable approach on the road.
Toronto's midfield is bursting at the seams with talent between Giovinco, Bradley, Benoît Cheyrout and Jonathan Osorio, but the deficiencies at the back line have kept Bradley more focused on defensive duties in his deep-lying midfield position and limited his creativity moving forward. We should see more of that defensive emphasis from Bradley against an Orlando side that will surely be looking to score goals at home, something it has struggled mightily to do so far this season.
City's defense will still have a tough task at its hands, as the aforementioned talent in the midfield paired with Altidore up front is capable of producing some beautiful attacking sequences, as it has shown flashes of at times in the early season. Despite overall struggles for Toronto, Giovinco has certainly proven that he will carve a defense up if given space.
What to Watch For:
Kaká vs. Michael Bradley in Midfield: The Toronto defense has been porous of late, allowing three goals in each of the last two matches. Orlando, meanwhile, has had a hard time finding the net at the Citrus Bowl, scoring just once in three matches in front of its home crowd.
Bradley, whom many OCSC fans will already be familiar with from watching the USMNT, will shield Toronto's back line from the defensive midfield, where he and the former FIFA World Player of the Year will do battle on Sunday evening as Kaká will once again be pulling the strings for the Lions. Orlando will look to test Toronto keeper Joe Bednik by putting shots on goal, a task which the duel between the American and the Brazilian will play a significant role in.
Watch to see how many quality chances the Lions are able to create. Despite a league-high 82.3 percent passing success rate, Orlando is near the bottom of the league in shots on target with just 3.1 per game.
The "Atomic Ant": If you haven't had a chance to watch many Toronto FC games yet this season, I can drop one certain bit of wisdom on you here: Sebastian Giovinco is really good. Like, serious MVP candidate good. He has three goals and two assists through five matches. Also, he can do this:
There are a lot of highlight reel plays crammed into the "Atomic Ant's" 5-foot-5 frame, and he can create a goal on his own at any time. Orlando hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard so far this year, and they've lost points twice on last second goals by very good players (Octavio Rivero and Luis Silva). If Orlando can't get up by a goal or two early, they could find themselves again losing points against the run of play.
Is Orlando City the least predictable team in history? They win on the road, despite being an expansion team. They give up extra time goals to blow matches they dominate. One week they crush Portland, and the next week they get crushed by the Crew.
Despite this being an exercise in futility, I'm going to give it another shot. The Lions have to win a match at home at some point, right? This is their fourth try, against a squad that looks totally out of sorts and has lost four straight. I think the Lions get back on track and take this one in commanding fashion.
Final Score: 2-0 Orlando City
What are your predictions for Orlando's eighth 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 Sunday, April 26, at 7:00 p.m. It will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.