What happens when a team that can't win on the road visits a team that can't win at home?
We're set to find out Sunday afternoon, as the L.A. Galaxy (3-3-5, 14 points) make the cross-country journey to take on Orlando City (2-5-3, 9 points) in the Citrus Bowl. The Lions' home struggles are well documented; they've failed to earn a home victory in MLS play through five matches. On the other hand, the Galaxy are, unbelievably, winless on the road since August 20 of 2014. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
The Galaxy have not exactly lit the world on fire this year, though one gets the sense it's more of a post-Landon Donovan adjustment period for the perennial contenders. The July arrival of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane's return to fitness certainly won't hurt, but in the meantime, it's up to young striker Gyasi Zardes to carry the goal scoring load.
Orlando, on the other hand, are suffering through a run of poor results that has the team looking distinctly like an expansion side. Losers of three of their last four, Kevin Molino's season-ending ACL injury exposed a serious lack of depth on an already middling side, although the club may get a boost with the return of veteran striker Martin Paterson, who should be in the 18 on Sunday.
Despite their failure to win a home league match this year, the Lions are expecting yet another huge crowd for their showdown with L.A.
Orlando City: Aside from a potential debut from Paterson, expect no major changes in order for the Lions, despite the loss to D.C. United. All things considered, they didn't play too badly last week, and it's not as if they have many options anyway. If Seb Hines (quad) is again unable to go, look for Amobi Okugo to drop back to center back and Harrison Heath or Cristian Higuita to get the start in midfield. Orlando City lacks depth at almost every position right now, and may be forced to dress less than 18 players for the third time this season (as previously at Montreal and at D.C.).
All that said, things weren't too bad for the Lions tactically against D.C. They controlled much of the first half, and then dropped back into a defensive shell to try and hold the lead on the road for the last 30 minutes. Unfortunately, it was two crucial mistakes that gifted United both of their goals, but that can't really be blamed on tactics or strategy.
One thing City must do differently against the Galaxy is find a way to get Kaká more involved. He was a total non-factor on Wednesday, to the point of being more detriment than benefit for much of the game. He clearly misses Molino, but he'll need to build chemistry with Brek Shea quickly. It's early, but a few more losses and Orlando will have a massive uphill battle to earn a playoff spot.
L.A. Galaxy: The defending champions certainly haven't looked like the same dominant side we saw defeat New England for the MLS Cup in 2014. It's not been awful, mind you, but it's been far from impressive. It seems unlikely that Robbie Keane will be fit for this one, though he's been back in training a bit this week, so anything's possible. Zardes has had a slow start this season, perhaps still adjusting to being the primary attacking threat in the absence of Donovan. He did score in last week's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas, and as Jurgen Klinsmann would attest, his talent and potential are through the roof.
I would expect the Galaxy to start with a defensive posture on the road without Keane. However, their counter attacking ability should not be overlooked. Juninho has the vision and skill to play Zardes over the top, and Robbie Rogers is still an elite fullback on the left side. In particular, the combination of Rogers and Husidic on the left may be enough to trouble young Rafael Ramos. Both are crafty, frustrating players, and Orlando fans are well aware that Ramos' composure leaves much to be desired.
What to Watch For:
Kaká/Shea Combination: While Brek Shea's move back to the midfield should continue this week, it's impossible to deny the utter lack of chemistry between he and the Brazilian captain, which was on display on Wednesday. To be fair, it wasn't entirely unpredictable; Shea is known to be a more direct player offensively, while Kaká and Coach Heath might prefer a more possession-oriented attack. Both players must adjust, and try to recreate the offensive chemistry that Kaká and Molino displayed early in the season.
Mind Games: Orlando City have yet to win a league match at home, while L.A. haven't won on the road in nine months. No player would ever admit to letting something like that enter their mind, but anyone who's played would tell you that it's there. Not only that, but both teams are coming off losses.This is where the coaches earn their money on the motivation front.
Bruce Arena is widely seen as one of the greatest coaches in American soccer history, and with good reason. On the other hand, the fiery Adrian Heath is no slouch for Orlando City either. Both teams are lacking confidence right now, but the coach that can best get his team in the right mindset here will give them a serious boost.
Both teams are missing key players, and given their poor form at home/on the road respectively, it's hard to see either with a major advantage here. Expect the Galaxy to sit back in front of the massive Citrus Bowl crowd and look to counter with their fullbacks. Zardes' hold-up play will certainly be tested as well, if Keane is indeed out again.
I think Gyasi may score first on the counter for the L.A., but Orlando City probably have a goal in them as well. In the end though, it seems too bold to predict either team to break their respective ruts and win this one.
Final Result: 1-1 Tie
What are your predictions for Orlando's match with the L.A. Galaxy? 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, May 17, at 5 p.m. It will be televised nationally on ESPN 2 and ESPN Deportes.