Orlando City will face D.C. United Sunday night at the Citrus Bowl in the third and final regular season meeting between the two teams. Although it would be pretty easy to argue that the Lions looked to be the better team both times, it was United that captured all six points in the first two contests.
A lack of finishing plagued Orlando in the first meeting and Aurelien Collin's hamstring strain turned the second game around in a matter of minutes. So this could be the final time City gets a shot at last year's Eastern Conference regular season champions unless they meet in the MLS playoffs at the end of the year.
United has faced Orlando City twice already and has collected all six points, but it hasn't been easy, with the Lions having had chances to win both games. Has it surprised you at how closely these teams have been matched in the first two meetings?
Ben Bromley: It has not surprised me, because MLS is a funny league and D.C. United are a funny team. In the off-season, most pundits agreed that Orlando City did a better job at putting together an MLS-ready team than New York City, and United had struggled with injuries and fixture congestion early in this season. That said, United has shown its veteran savvy by finding ways to win both of these games when the two teams have been so evenly matched.
Fabian Espindola returned and completely changed the game against the Chicago Fire. Aside from Fabi, will City see anyone they have yet to face this season and is there anyone missing now that we've played in the first two meetings?
BB: The return of Fabi is obviously the biggest one; he completely changes the way D.C. United play, turning them from a hard-working team with limited creativity to a team that can create dangerous chances out of nowhere. Markus Halsti, the Finnish defensive midfielder, is another player who could make his first appearance against Orlando City. He has been alternating time with Davy Arnaud as the partner for Perry Kitchen, and so that choice could go either way. Finally, Steve Birnbaum has been getting minutes at left back due to injuries, but he could go back to his preferred center back spot at any moment.
How does Espindola's presence change United, tactically?
BB: On the lineup sheet, it changes nothing at all. However, on the field, Espindola's audacity and accuracy change everything. Conor Doyle is a hard working forward/winger who hadn't scored a goal since 2013; when Espindola came back, his run and his cross set up Doyle perfectly for a goal. He combines well with anyone with which he is paired: Luis Silva last year, Chris Rolfe, Jairo Arrieta. It doesn't matter, he just finds ways to score goals and get assists and makes everyone else on the team better.
Orlando City traded Jairo Arrieta to DC before the season. How would you rate his overall performance this season and do you think Orlando would have been better served by keeping him?
BB: Arrieta has been key for D.C. United, picking up the slack when other forwards have been injured and forcing his way into games when those same forwards have returned. I'm sure he could have helped Orlando City early in the season when they, like United, were beset by injuries. But he also might have kept Cyle Larin on the bench, and that has worked out pretty well for you all. We're just glad we get to keep him, and he seems very happy to be here.
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Big thanks to Ben for helping us get ready for Sunday's match.