Orlando fans will remember the first match-up in Week 4, as one of the earliest examples of the Lions' struggles at home this year. City controlled the play for much of the match, and it was only a virtuoso performance from USMNT keeper-in-waiting Bill Hamid that kept D.C. in the game. Orlando paid for their failure to finish though, when substitute Luis Silva stepped up for United and buried a a free kick in stoppage time for the 1-0 victory.
D.C. United (5-1-3, 18 points) has played quite well since that night, and currently sit tied with New England atop the Eastern Conference table with a game in hand. In fact, they haven't lost since their opening week match against the New York Red Bulls. Like New England last week, United has an assortment of attacking options at its disposal, including the ever-dangerous Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola.
The Lions, on the other hand, have had an up-and-down first third of the season, to be generous. They've still yet to notch their first home win, though Aurelien Collin's valiant aerial effort in the 90th minute last week did earn them a tie against a tough Revolution side. Nonetheless, Orlando has fallen all the way to seventh in the East, and don't look to be a serious contender through nine weeks.
Orlando City: The most notable change for Orlando City is the absence of Amobi Okugo, who will be suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation. While his play has been inconsistent at times this year, he deserves credit for taking a leadership role in the Orlando midfield. Cristian Higuita will replace him, and while the Colombian offers a different dynamic offensively, the Lions will be weaker on defense without Okugo.
Without Okugo, the Lions may even deploy more of a 4-3-3 at times, with Avila dropping back to assist Higuita and Darwin Ceren. This has been effective for Orlando before, and it may be the best strategy on the road against United. It certainly highlights some depth and injury issues for the expansion club though, as they've been forced into dramatic lineup changes multiple times this season based on personnel.
Brek Shea should remain up at the left wing position for the time being, with Luke Boden again replacing him at fullback. I would say the jury's still out on the change, but moving Shea closer to goal certainly can't hurt the Lions' chances of scoring. And of course, it was Boden's well-placed cross in stoppage time that found the head of Collin to earn the tie last week.
D.C. United: A lot was made of New England's attacking talent last weekend, but if there's one team that can rival them in the East, it's United. Espindola and Silva don't have quite the name recognition in the U.S. of the Revs' USMNT stars, but they're every bit the players. Remember, it was D.C., not New England, who were the Regular Season Champions in the East last year.
This is also the healthiest the Black and Red have been all year, with Espindola -- who I've got listed as a starter here although we've seen tweets that he may be unavailable, but nothing official as of this writing -- and defender Steve Birnbaum potentially returning to action. Silva also appears to be fully recovered, and oft-injured Chris Pontius still going strong. United is strong at nearly every position, and can beat you in a lot of different ways.
Orlando's first rematch of the young MLS season means a new section to our preview! Back on April 3, D.C. United came down to the Citrus Bowl and practically stole three points from the Lions. All things considered, it still stands as one of Orlando's best performances of the season. However, the Lions' inability to score cost them in the end, as Luis Silva's spectacular free kick buried them in stoppage time.
At the time, it was the second consecutive disappointing 0-1 home loss for City, in what has become a bit of a trend this season. Here are the highlights from that match:
What to Watch For:
Cristian Higuita Starts for Orlando: We touched on this earlier, but Higuita is a different player than Okugo. He's shown a tendency to be more reckless, and is certainly not the same polished defender as Okugo, who played a good deal of center back for Philadelphia.
However, Higuita may cover more ground than Okugo, and what some call "recklessness", others call creativity. There's been a lack of that in the central midfield behind Kaka so far this season, which is particularly debilitating for a possession club like Orlando. Can Higuita provide a spark for the offense, or will D.C. exploit the youngster on defense?
Kaká: Sure, in a sense, the Brazilian is an X-Factor in any game. He can always score from a free kick, and has looked like the most dangerous man on the pitch in a number of matches. However, this week, Kaká was named to Brazil's preliminary Copa America roster by coach Dunga. The Orlando captain is passionately Brazilian and has spoken about wanting to play for his country again. I'm betting it means a lot to the 33-year-old to be considered for the squad again.
Keep an eye out for an impassioned performance from Kaká. It's clear the odds will be against the Lions in this one, but this might just be a week where the captain is able to will them to victory.
We all know that home field advantage doesn't matter much to the Lions. Granted, D.C. is unlikely to have much support on hand anyway; it's a midweek game, and both the Capitals and Wizards have playoff games Wednesday night.
Still, there's just no way I can predict a win for Orlando here. They're still recovering from the loss of Kevin Molino, and will be without another stalwart in Okugo. Oh, and did I mention D.C. haven't lost in their last 13 home matches and are by all accounts one of the best teams in MLS this year?
All that said...United has been prone to giving up points in "should-win games," and Orlando looked very good against them in the teams' first match-up. I'll say we see a moment of individual brilliance from Kaká, and the Lions manage to take a point on the road.
Final Score: 1-1 Tie
What are your predictions for Orlando's rematch with D.C. United? 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 Wednesday, May 13, at 8 p.m. It will be televised nationally on ESPN 2 and ESPN Deportes.