Soccer is notoriously a fickle mistress, and oh my how the tables have turned for Orlando City in just a few short weeks.
Sure, the results have been better recently; a dominating 4-0 win over the defending champion L.A. Galaxy, followed by a gutsy 1-1 draw on the road against a fourth place San Jose side. The real change, however, is the sudden glut of attacking talent the Lions find themselves with.
Reports indicated that Brazilian utility forward Pedro Ribeiro is nearing full strength from a hamstring tear suffered in early April. The second year man was on a tear (no pun intended) prior to the injury, and seemed poised for a breakout campaign in Major League Soccer. Alas, he's now missed six weeks, and seems in danger of having lost his starting role.
Additionally, Northern Irish forward Martin Paterson finally returned to the field in the last couple weeks, making back-to-back substitute appearances for Orlando City in the striker role. He was slated by many to be the starter prior to opening day, and his experience and talent may still hold a good deal of appeal for Coach Adrian Heath, on what is otherwise a very young team.
The problem, of course, is that rookie Cyle Larin has been the standout striker in the entire league in the month of April, and by many accounts, the clear front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award this season. He had scored in four consecutive matches prior to the San Jose game, and it was the Canadian who earned the penalty kick to give Orlando a point on the road in that one. It's also worth noting that Eric Avila has played his two best games of the season in his last two outings, and Brek Shea has provided a positive attacking presence since he moved back to the midfield.
So, in lieu of benching Kaká, how can Orlando City get players like Paterson and Ribeiro back on the field without removing players who are already playing well?
Perhaps the obvious move would be to substitute the potential and raw talent of Ribeiro in for the veteran savvy of Avila on the right wing. However, in addition to the loss of experience, that would leave Shea and Ribeiro as the wingers. Neither is particularly inclined to actually move the ball down the wing, and neither has shown themselves to be particularly skilled at crossing the ball.
It seems unbelievable that Heath would consider benching the streaking Larin in favor of Paterson, who would be earning his first MLS start. However, there's always the potential that Paterson could move to the wing as well, or more dramatic yet, a formation change could be in order.
In the long term, it's impossible to predict how Orlando City's starting XI will pan out. In all honestly, the Lions should be grateful to have depth as an issue, on a team that was so desperately lacking it just a few weeks earlier. Not that it's the right choice for every match, but the fan in me would be incredibly curious -- and excited -- to see the Lions put this starting XI on the field for a match or two...