Why does it seem like the team Orlando City (4-5-5, 17 points) has the most trouble beating is the team they have to play the most often?
Sunday will mark the third meeting between the Lions and Eastern Conference rival D.C. United (8-4-4, 28 points), and we haven't even reached the halfway point of the 2015 season. Through two previous outings, Orlando is yet to earn a single point.
In the first match-up in April, Orlando City outplayed United and amassed 17 shots over 90 minutes. However, with the help of a Man of the Match performance from keeper Bill Hamid, D.C. was able to stick around long enough for Luis Silva to curl in a 91st minute free kick winner.
A month later, the Lions went looking for revenge in the nation's capital. Orlando went up 1-0 early, but they were unable to hold on and trailed 2-1 at the final whistle. Orlando was missing some key players due to injury as it was, and things were over for the Lions as soon as center back Aurelien Collin went down in the second half with a hamstring strain. That May tilt marked a low point for Orlando City's season, as the club hadn't won in four weeks, including three losses.
Things have turned for the better since then though, with the Lions currently riding a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2) and squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Things haven't been so bad for United either, though. D.C. currently sits seven points clear of second-place New England atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Formation and Starting XI:
Orlando City SC:
The Lions are much healthier now than they were the last time these two teams met, but they'll still be without a few key players due to national team duty. Starting forward Cyle Larin will miss the match, though he scored yesterday for the Canadian National Team. Midfielder Darwin Ceren, whose El Salvador side struggled to a 2-2 tie against St. Kitts and Nevis, will also be absent.
Those are big losses for Orlando, but Brek Shea should be back in action after a two-match stint with the U.S. National Team. A healthy Pedro Ribeiro will be a solid replacement for Larin up top, and we may see a shot at redemption for the benched Amobi Okugo in the midfield. Theoretically, both should be very capable replacements, but you never know how something like that will affect team chemistry.
On the health front, things aren't all that different up north in D.C. Staggered by injuries early in the year, United are nearly back to full strength as well. Chris Pontius is still likely out for this one, and Luis Silva may start on the bench for another week or two until he fully regains his form. I like Steve Birnbaum to slide back over to center back this week now that Taylor Kemp has returned, but Kofi Opare could also keep the role for another week or two.
Fabian Espindola is clearly the danger man for United; through only 311 minutes so far in 2015, he's amassed four assists, one goal, and 12 shots. As Orlando City has learned, though, D.C. is a well-balanced side, and there are plenty of players in the 11 who can finish the chances that Espindola creates. Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon provide dangerous support from their respective wings, and Rolfe in particular is an excellent finisher.
What to Watch For:
Can Orlando Score Without Larin?
Surprisingly, rookie Cyle Larin has established himself as the Lions' number one goal-scoring threat so far this season. Kaká has only scored once from the run of play, ditto for Eric Avila, and Brek Shea has yet to score for Orlando.
Pedro Ribeiro has shown an ability to find the net when healthy, and Orlando City may be relying on him again on Sunday. Kaká and Shea will need to get into the scoring act eventually though. With Larin out, this may be the weekend to do it.
Bill Hamid: If it wasn't for the D.C. United keeper, we wouldn't even be discussing the possibility of a season sweep for United. Orlando was easily the better team in the first meeting in April, and would have won if not for a handful of spectacular saves by the U.S. international.
Unfortunately for City, that's not exactly out of the ordinary for Hamid. He's long been tabbed as the heir apparent behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan for the U.S. National Team, and he's been known to carry his team to victory on occasion in league play. If Hamid plays like he did last time D.C. was in the Citrus Bowl, a 0-0 tie may be the best result the Lions can hope for.
To be frank, there's not much that's more embarrassing in MLS than being on the wrong end of a three-game season sweep against a conference opponent. Maybe losing to New York City FC (Boom! Roasted.). But that's about it.
The Lions outplayed D.C. once already at home this year though, and since then, they seem to have figured out how to win games. It's difficult to account for another round of heroics from Hamid, but if the field players perform the same way they did in April, City comes away the winners nine times out of 10.
Final Result: 2-1 Orlando City
What are your thoughts headed into Orlando's third match of the season against D.C.? 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, June 14, at 7 p.m. It will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Deportes and will also be transmitted on Real Radio 104.1 FM and La Grande 1030 AM.