Hey, look who's still here!
If you're reading this, it means you weren't scared off by Orlando City SC's (7-11-7, 28 points) horrific 4-0 loss to Seattle last week and decided to stick around as the Lions head north of the border for a match-up with Toronto FC (9-10-4, 31 points) on Saturday.
It's been a rough couple of months for Adrian's Heath's men, as Orlando has managed just a single win in their last seven games. Ravaged by injuries, the Lions will now have to deal with the loss of Kaká, who will head to Brazil for international duty with the Seleção next month. But before he leaves, Orlando City's captain has a chance to help the Lions secure a critical road win against Toronto.
Somehow, Orlando City remains within striking distance of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They're behind the Montreal Impact and New York City FC on tie-breakers, but that's actually a bit misleading, because Montreal have more matches remaining than the Lions. Even so, the playoffs are still very much within reach for Orlando. It just doesn't feel that way.
Orlando City has already lost twice to Toronto this season, including a 4-1 thrashing at BMO just two weeks ago, but the Lions have reason for optimism as they make a return trip to Canada. They were missing Kaká, Carlos Rivas and Rafael Ramos in their previous match-up with TFC, plus new signings Adrian Winter, David Mateos and Adam Bedell. These are all players who could provide Orlando City with a boost against the Reds. Of course, Toronto was missing Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in that last game, so the Lions may still be in trouble.
Formation and Starting XI:
After last week's disastrous attempt at running a 4-3-2-1 formation against Seattle, look for Adrian Heath to get back to basics against Seattle, with his standard 4-2-3-1. On top of that formation change, look for Orlando City to benefit from the addition of two players that have been out with injury over recent weeks.
Inserting Rafael Ramos at right back will be huge for Orlando City, as the Portuguese speedster has proven his ability to shut down quality opposition before (his breakout performance came back in March, when he shut down DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Davis in Houston). Replacing him with Tyler Turner or an out-of-position Corey Ashe was only a short-term solution, so look for Ramos to pick up where he left off commanding the right flank.
In the attacking midfield, expect to see Carlos Rivas back after a brief injury spell. His ability to continue the rapid development he showed before going down with a groin injury will be crucial in determining if Orlando still has a playoff run left in them.
And even after disappointing debuts in the starting XI against Seattle, David Mateos and Adrian Winter should get another shot to make an impression against Toronto.
On paper, a full-strength TFC squad should be one of the scariest teams in MLS. But with Giovinco, Jozy and Michael Bradley all in the lineup against the New York Red Bulls last week, Toronto got crushed 3-0.
Still though, Orlando had enough trouble with Giovinco in their last meeting, as La Formica Atomica scored a hat trick in a 4-1 rout of the Lions without Bradley and Altidore. Add summer signing (and former U.S. international) Hérculez Gómez to the mix, and you've got one of the most potent attacking squads in MLS.
It's going to be a tall order for the Lions back line, but with this unit finally nearing full strength, they just might be up to the challenge. Where Orlando City can exploit Toronto is on the defensive side of the ball, as the Reds have some decisions to make at center back.
City fans will recognize defender Josh Williams from NYCFC's starting lineup during their March 8 trip to the Citrus Bowl. But after falling out of favor in New York, Williams was acquired by Toronto, where he got the start last week against Red Bulls. Despite the 3-0 loss, Williams was impressive anchoring the TFC defense and should get a second consecutive start against Orlando. His opposite will be either Eriq Zavaleta or Ahmed Kantari, but after a less than stellar performance against NYRB, look for the French international to sit in favor of Zavaleta on Saturday.
Player to Watch: Sebastian Giovinco, F
Toronto FC is perfectly happy to beat you with any of their three Designated Players, but stopping Giovinco has to be a top priority for Orlando City.
One of the first established European players to come to MLS in his 20s, the man they call La Formica Atomica has been a revelation for Toronto this season. He's currently battling Crew SC's Kei Kamara for the MLS scoring mark and will be looking for another strong performance against Orlando on Saturday. This guy can do some serious damage with the ball at his feet.
Player You Haven't Heard Of (But Should Watch): Joe Bendik, GK
It's not easy to find an unknown commodity on such a loaded Toronto FC squad, but goalkeeper Joe Bendik certainly isn't a huge name. He's not exactly a popular fellow among TFC fans either.
The Toronto Sun recently suggested that Bendik is the biggest scapegoat on this Toronto FC team, which isn't exactly unknown territory for a keeper, but do the numbers back up the abuse the American has endured? And more importantly, is there anything the Lions can take advantage of?
Well, Bendik's goals against average of 2.08 is the third worst in MLS and by the far the poorest of any starting keeper in the league. That looks even worse when you consider that Bendik doesn't even crack the top ten in shots faced this season.
So yeah, he's definitely a liability for TFC between the sticks.
Bendik's save percentage is a mediocre 63%, which suggests Orlando City will still have to do some work to get past him. But he's definitely a player the Lions can look to exploit on Saturday.
Keys to Victory for Orlando City:
- Can Kaká bounce back after a poor performance against Seattle?
- How will Ramos and Rivas fare in their return from injury?
- Will Tally Hall's crest stay on? Just kidding, but the Lions could seriously need a MOTM performance from Hall to get points out of this match
Prediction: Toronto FC 3 Orlando City 1
I'm sorry about this, but remember, I've never gotten one of these predictions right before, so hopefully that streak will continue on Saturday.
Seriously though, I don't see how the Lions can expect to get past a full-strength TFC squad on the road. I've been skeptical of Orlando's playoff chances ever since the scoreless draw at home to the Philadelphia Union, but I think this loss will make it clear that the 2015 Lions (at least with this injury riddled roster) probably aren't a playoff team.
Still though, this is a big game for Kaká. He's been rather unimpressive lately, and I don't think the prescription for poor form is usually leaving your club to play international friendlies. He'll need to get some positive momentum going against Toronto and some improved play on Saturday could translate to success with Brazil and Orlando City later this season.