No one planning tonight's summer friendly with English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion could have predicted Orlando City would be going into the game absolutely depleted. What was imagined as a night of cultural exchange between a decent English club and the newest MLS expansion side has become an inconvenience, to say the least.
Still, there have to be a few positives to be drawn out of tonight's friendly, right? Here are the positives and negatives as I see them to tonight's match-up.
1. While Orlando City's line up is suffering from injuries and international absences at nearly every position, there are still a number of players who have not seen much of the field. Many of the younger players on the squad need matches like these to continue to develop their game, while a number of veterans are still building chemistry with their teammates. This type of game against a lower profile talented club provides a great chance for these fringe players.
2. We are in a transfer window, so the club's management is actively looking to improve the squad. While the FC Dallas game might have made our wishlist as clear as Ralphie's desire for a Red Rider BB gun in A Christmas Story, another chance to look at the entire lineup can only help the club as it looks to add reinforcements for its second half playoff push.
3. For the younger fans in the stands, these kinds of match-ups can be especially magical. While West Brom might be lacking a star-studded lineup, it is still an English Premier League club. These are the kinds of games I remember my parents taking me to as a kid -- games I still talk about.
4. I'm also sure there will be a contingent of English Premier League fans and West Brom supporters who will be delighted to see a club from home. Like the English, Italian, and Brazilian supporters who've come out to see previous friendlies, Orlando City will hope at least a few of them come back for an MLS game.
West Brom is also in the earliest throes of its preseason. This won't be an MLS club in mid-season form, meaning despite our depleted lineup, Orlando City stands the chance of having a good showing.
1. Oh so many games! Orlando City is deep into a mid-season playoff battle and still pushing through the U.S. Open Cup. Add our players playing in the Gold Cup and its nightmarish travel schedules and you have a very worn out team. This club needs a day off more than it needs another night of tropical heat at the Citrus Bowl.
2. We are all still missing Kevin Molino, who is out with a season-ending injury from our last mid-season friendly against Ponte Preta. His loss has been noticeable since he went down. There is so much injustice in the Molino story, as you have a player who stuck it out with the club in USL instead of looking for an MLS club, only to have his breakout season cut short in a meaningless game. We risk every player who sees the field tonight with a similar injury.
3. So far, Orlando fans don't seem to be sold on these games. If the chatter on social media and ticket exchange sites is any indication, there will be a light showing from the Orlando faithful tonight. These games are supposed to be showcases for MLS to measure itself against foreign competition. When these games began in in the early 2000s they made sense. MLS was looking to show it could compete with the world's best, while EPL and other European clubs are always looking to make these lucrative trips to the States.
I can't help but feel these mid-season friendlies have to be limited. The distraction for a competitive club is starting to far outweigh the benefits. West Brom will most likely get a good workout as they continue to prepare for their season, while Orlando City has an unnecessary distraction as the Lions continue to battle midway through theirs.
I can't imagine this February when Orlando City is looking to prepare for its second MLS season we would be able to call teams in England for a friendly match-up in the midst of their end of season push.