clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Orlando City vs. Real Salt Lake: Match Preview, Starting XIs and Predictions

New, 1 comment

The Lions embark on the second half of their inaugural MLS season with a trip to the always-tough Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake. Can Orlando City continue its run of good form and get a result in Utah?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The mood couldn't be much better in the City Beautiful, as Orlando City (6-6-5, 23 points) prepares for an Independence Day showdown with Real Salt Lake (5-6-7, 22 points) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT, tomorrow night.

It will be the Lions' first-ever meeting with the perennial Western Conference contenders, who are currently battling to get back in playoff contention as we enter the second half of the MLS season. While Orlando is coming off a U.S. Open Cup victory against a Columbus side made up largely of reserves, it was the Crew's first-choice side that earned a tie in Utah just days earlier.

For RSL, it seems it's the same two names year in and year out that keep them in contention: defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando. As luck would have it, neither will be involved in Saturday night's contest, because both veterans have been called to represent the U.S. Men's National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which kicks off this week.

Orlando City will be down three starters of its own though, as forward Cyle Larin will be with the Canadian National Team, midfielder Darwin Ceren will be with El Salvador's Gold Cup squad, and U.S. international Brek Shea is still recovering from a nagging groin injury. But unlike those three, Beckerman is the driving force of his team's midfield on both defense and offense.

Projected Lineups

Orlando City

Larin and Shea are objectively two of the most talented attacking players on the Lions' roster, yet at the moment, their absence seems a minor inconvenience. Rookie winger Carlos Rivas seems to have finally found his form in America, notching four goals and an assist across Orlando's last four matches (two MLS and two U.S. Open Cup). While the team has appeared to miss Larin's speed up top, Pedro Ribeiro has shown flashes of impressive talent as a different style of forward.

Speaking of Ribeiro, he and Kaká may find space to operate in the center of the field with Beckerman absent for Salt Lake. It's been easy to see that the two Brazilians seem to have developed a chemistry in their matches together, and we've seen both find the net well this season. Orlando City also has the second-best away record in Major League Soccer this season (3-3-2).

Real Salt Lake

While it would be unwise to count out RSL quite yet, the goal-scoring simply hasn't been there so far this season. They've only netted 17 goals in 18 matches, and Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio are tied for the team lead with only three each. Losing Beckerman is unlikely to make RSL a better team, but perhaps a new face in the midfield could provide a spark.

Even without their missing players, RSL poses quite a threat. They've got a good home record (3-1-5), allowing only one team to take all three points out of Rio Tinto -- the Vancouver Whitecaps. RSL may have struggled to score goals this season but it's not from a lack of attackers on the pitch. Salt Lake tends to deploy a 4-3-3 formation, but RSL has struggled to consistently get their best players on the pitch due to injuries and various other absences.

What to Watch For:

Set Pieces: Real Salt Lake has been quite adept at set pieces this season, while Orlando City has conceded from them multiple times -- most notably in early back-to-back home losses to Vancouver and D.C. United. Just a few games ago, the Lions allowed Donny Toia to score at Montreal off a corner kick.

Orlando City will need to be more alert on set pieces, so the pressure will be there to stay alert and mark attackers tightly. Central defenders Seb Hines and Sean St. Ledger will be important players on RSL set pieces, while young players like Carlos Rivas must stay alert and not get caught ball watching.

"X" Factor:

Rafael Ramos: The young Portuguese right back was somewhat quiet against Columbus on Tuesday and didn't get forward as often as he usually does. Eric Avila turned inside with the ball a number of times, rather than playing the ball out for Ramos, contributing to his lack of involvement in the offense. After looking at film this week, it's likely that Orlando goes back to trying to spring Ramos up the right flank, where he can deliver his outstanding through balls and dangerous crosses.

If Avila stays in the starting XI, he'll need to get back to the chemistry he showed with Ramos for a few games during City's good run of form in June. If he continues to turn inside and use Ramos as a decoy, it will allow RSL's back four to play more narrow, which hinders the intricate passing of Kaká, Ribeiro and Rivas.

Prediction:

If you look at overall records, goals scored, and recent form, Orlando City might look like an easy favorite. However, the Lions are going to a place where it's been difficult for visitors to come away with all three points. Very few players in Orlando's lineup have playing experience at Rio Tinto, which can be one of the tougher atmospheres in Major League Soccer. City can look back on the Portland trip to help them deal with their surroundings, but complicating things is the 10 p.m. (ET) start time. Athletes are finely tuned to their inner clocks and that can work against them when playing at an odd time.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-2 Real Salt Lake

* * *

What are your thoughts headed into Orlando's 18th league match against Real Salt Lake? 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 Saturday, July 4, at 10 p.m. It will be televised locally on My65/Sun Sports and on the MLS Live. It will be broadcast on Real Radio 104.1 FM and La Grande 1030 AM.