Following an overall poor team performance in a 2-0 weekend loss to the Montreal Impact, Orlando City (5-6-5, 20 points) are back home in the Citrus Bowl Wednesday night to take on the Western Conference cellar-dweller Colorado Rapids (2-4-9, 15 points).
While this will be the teams' first meeting in Major League Soccer, they've actually met twice before in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play. In 2013, City bettered the Rapids 3-1 in a third-round match. In 2014, Colorado defeated the Lions 5-2 in the fourth round.
While there wasn't much that went right for Orlando City on Saturday night in Montreal, one could still say that the Lions have been on an excellent run of form over the past month or so. The Impact match snapped a five-game unbeaten streak, which had vaulted Orlando from outside the playoff picture to its current third-place spot in the Eastern Conference.
Still, City's last two performances have been far from confidence inspiring. A B-side team traveled to South Carolina to take on the USL's Charleston Battery last Wednesday in the Lions' opening match of the U.S. Open Cup, and they barely escaped with a victory on penalty kicks after a thoroughly unconvincing performance. A rest did little good for the starters though, who were mostly ineffective against Montreal. Kaká's mediocre night left fans scratching their heads, while Cyle Larin seemed to have lost the finishing touch that had him tearing up the league in May.
Meanwhile, almost nothing has gone right for Pablo Mastroeni's Rapids. They haven't won a league match since May 23 and are stuck in last place in the West, behind ninth-place Houston by five points. Last week, they clawed back to earn a 1-1 draw against visiting FC Dallas in the 88th minute on a lovely Dillon Serna volley.
Speaking of Serna, the 21-year-old Akron product's performance against Dallas was something of a coming out party for the third-year man that Mastroeni has left on the bench for much of 2015 so far. The winger started 18 matches last year in his sophomore campaign, but last weekend was only his second start of this season. He was Colorado's best player against Dallas though, and I'd fully expect him to be in the starting XI again in Orlando.
The biggest concern for Orlando City will likely be fatigue for this midweek fixture. Montreal is something like a 2,300-kilometer trip from Orlando, which I'm told is also a long distance in a miles ('Murica). Not only that, starters Luke Boden and Lewis Neal also played serious minutes in last Wednesday's match against the Battery. It's difficult to see either starting on Wednesday, though I wouldn't totally rule it out.
Boden creates the biggest issue, as the only other true left back option is Brek Shea, who has been starting at left wing for the Lions. My bet is he shifts back for this one and makes way for natural left winger Carlos Rivas to start. Colorado right back James Riley struggled mightily with Dallas' Fabián Castillo last week, though he's likely to be replaced by Michael Harrington in this one. Harrington has been a serviceable MLS fullback for many years, but he's not a burner and may well struggle with the speedy Rivas/Shea combo. Even if Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath feels that Boden is still fit to start this one, look for Brek Shea to find a way to impact this one from the left wing.
Here's your chance, Dillon Serna. After his performance last weekend against Dallas, including his game-tying goal, Mastroeni will be hard-pressed to keep him out of the starting lineup. He provides a dynamic attacking option for the Rapids, and has scored twice in only 225 minutes so far this year.
The rapids will be in a 4-2-3-1 formation as well, but it's executed quite differently than Orlando City's version. While City are prone to pinch in and rely entirely on the fullbacks for width, Colorado is more content to play up the wings and rely on crosses. Obviously, it hasn't exactly worked well for the struggling Rapids, but the Lions will miss strong-man center back Aurelien Colling in this one, who's out with a hamstring strain.
Clint Irwin is an underrated MLS keeper, though he'll regret not doing better on Castillo's goal last week. While there's not much star power on the back line for the Rapids, they're a veteran unit which has done well so far this year despite a non-existent offense.
What to Watch For:
Dillon Serna: Up through the last week or two, Serna was having a disappointing season for the Rapids. Fortunes can change quickly for young attackers though, and a streaking winger (literally and figuratively) is not to be trifled with. Whether it's Brek Shea or Luke Boden at left back, neither is necessarily known for their defensive prowess.
Recently acquired journeyman striker Luis Solignac has had some positive impact for the Rapids, though he's failed to score yet in five appearances. If the Argentine and Serna can quickly develop some chemistry, it might be enough to energize what's otherwise been a flaccid Colorado attack.
Brek Shea: It's become a bit of a worrying routine sentiment heard around Orlando City tailgates: Is this the week Brek Shea finally breaks out? After an impressive opening two months at left back, Adrian Heath saw fit to move Shea back to his natural role on the wing after the season-ending injury to Kevin Molino left the Lions short on attacking options. One can't argue with the results in the league table, however, Shea is still goalless and often struggles to really leave his mark in attack.
If there was ever a match to break out of his funk, this might be it. The Rapids may well be the worst team in MLS so far this year, and they feature a back line with an average age sniffing north of 30. Not only that, but the Rapids won't get much help from the attack-minded Serna on the wing.
Finally, a match where Orlando City will be the prohibitive favorites! With the Lions' season so far though, that doesn't mean much.
City are the better team here though, and unlike earlier in the year, they now have some reliable, game-tested depth in Eric Avila and Carlos Rivas. The Rapids have mastered the bunker defense though, and their nine draws are by far the most in MLS this season. Don't say I didn't warn you if Colorado is able to frustrate Orlando into a 1-1 draw, but I'll give the Lions the benefit of the doubt and say they rebound after a tough defeat on the road.
Prediction: 2-1 Orlando City
What are your thoughts headed into Orlando's 16th league match against the Rapids? 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, June 24, at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised locally on My65/Sun Sports and on the Fox Sports GO app. It will be broadcast on Real Radio 104.1 FM and La Grande 1030 AM.