Crisis? What crisis?
Those were Kaká's words of encouragement (?) as Orlando City SC (7-12-7, 28 points) heads home for a match-up with the Chicago Fire (7-13-5, 26 points) on Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl. The Lions could really use an offensive spark in this one, as they've been outscored 13-1 in the four games since their last win on home turf.
But Orlando City has an opportunity to get its groove back against the Fire, a team that's also stuck outside playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The first meeting of the season came way back on June 6, as the Lions edged by Chicago 3-2 on a late goal from Cyle Larin and a Fire own goal in the 86th minute. Let's all pretend that wasn't the last time Orlando won on the road.
Those were the good old days when Larin couldn't stop scoring and everyone thought Carlos Rivas was about to earn all that DP money.
Anyway, the clubs wouldn't meet again until July, this time in the quarterfinals of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup. The Lions' second trip to Toyota Park wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the first, in large part because of Kennedy Igboananike, who came off the bench to score two second-half goals and end OCSC's run through the tournament.
But back at the Citrus Bowl for their third meeting of 2015, the Lions have to believe they can get points from this match. Even after a horrendous 1-6-2 stretch that's dampened City's playoff hopes, Orlando has managed to stay above the Fire in a tightly packed Eastern Conference.
Can the Lions rediscover their form on Saturday? Will Kaká get better at pep talks? Can Orlando City finish the game with 11 men? At least some of those questions will be answered in your Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire match preview!
Formation and Starting XI:
The Lions have become accustomed to playing with a roster at less than full strength, which is good thing, because Saturday's lineup will be missing Rafael Ramos and Adrian Winter, who are out with red card suspensions.
Getting Ramos back into the starting XI was a huge boost for Orlando, so his almost-immediate departure with a red card is going to hurt. Tyler Turner has been a (mostly) serviceable backup for Ramos this season and he'll likely be asked to slot in and replace the Portuguese youngster on the flank. Turner must play smart, because he is the club's only option at right back, unless Adrian Heath turns to an out-of-position Corey Ashe or Luke Boden.
Both those players could start against Chicago on the left side of the pitch, due to the absence of Winter. Without his Swiss midfielder available, look for Heath to move Ashe to his familiar left back role, while Boden occupies a more offensive position next to the attacking trio of Kaká and Lewis Neal.
Say what you want about the Fire and a season spent in the Eastern Conference cellar, but this club is making moves to improve late in the 2015 season.
It's been a busy week for Chicago, who sold midfielder Shaun Maloney to Hull City on Wednesday. Expected to be one of the club's major acquisitions during the off-season, Maloney never really found his niche in the the Windy City and struggled with injuries during his time with the Fire.
His absence should open up a spot for David Accam, who will be given an opportunity to build on what's already been an impressive 2015 campaign. The Ghanaian forward has six goals this season in 16 appearances and was recently called up by his national team. It's the kind of development the Fire will hope to see from one of their young designated players.
While Maloney was sent packing this week, the Fire brought in Brazilian forward Gilberto to give the club a more consistent attacking threat. You'll remember Gilberto as the DP who Toronto was forced to loan out after bringing in Jozy Altidore and Giovinco over the summer. He played well during a stint with Vasco de Gama in his home country and made his first appearance with the Fire in a win over the New York Red Bulls earlier this week. He and Igboananike should give the Fire a reliable attacking pairing in Frank Yallop's 4-4-2.
Player to Watch: Kennedy Igboananike, F
The man they call Iggy has been a bright spot for Chicago this season, and Orlando City fans already know how deadly he can be.
Igboananike's two-goal performance against the Lions in U.S. Open Cup play was one of the performances that helped vault him into a starting role with the Fire. The 26-year-old Nigerian made a name for himself playing in Sweden before being acquired by Chicago during the off-season.
He's been improving under Yallop and paired with Gilberto nicely in the win over NYRB on Wednesday. Here's a little bit more of what he can do:
That goal at 00:26 is seriously world-class.
Three Questions for Orlando City:
- Can Kaká turn in one more world-class performance before leaving for the Brazilian national team? The Lions have seen their captain endure a frustrating run of poor form recently and the team has struggled because of it. With its playoff hopes hanging by a thread, can Orlando City count on Kaká to deliver?
- Where are the goals going to come from? This will be continue to be a big question for the Lions when score lines like 4-0 and 5-0 are becoming depressingly routine. Cyle Larin would appear to be the obvious candidate, but will Canadian striker break out against the Fire?
- Can the Lions hang around in time for reinforcements to arrive? It sounds crazy, but once Brek Shea returns from injury and Kaká is back from international duty, the Lions will have the majority of their first-choice starters healthy (with the exception of Kevin Molino, of course). But by the time that happens, will the Lions already be completely out of the playoff picture?
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Chicago Fire 0
Just break out the champagne now.
Maybe I'm just cocky after last week's humiliating defeat to Toronto gave me my first correct prediction of the year, but I think Orlando City gets it done on Saturday. Neither team has had a full week to prepare for this one, so I expect an ugly and unpleasant soccer match; but I also think Orlando is going to win.
Kaká isn't one to leave town with his tail between his legs, so I think he steps up on Saturday to provide the Lions with a big-time performance. If he really does love a crisis, then he should be just fine against a team Orlando really should be able to handle.
I think Larin gets the game-winner and the Lions keep their crazy, improbable and probably undeserved playoff dreams alive for one more week.