Orlando City (7-9-6, 27 points) jumped into August with a bang.
After a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad month of July, the Lions opened up August with a big 5-2 win at home over Columbus Crew SC on Saturday night. Cyle Larin continued his scorching hot scoring streak with another pair of goals, giving him five in his last two games to tie the Major League Soccer rookie record for goals in a season with 11.
Now, on just three days of rest, Orlando City will visit with our Neighbors to the North for the third time this season, and first to the home of Drake, as the Lions take on Toronto FC (8-8-4, 28 points) Wednesday night at BMO Field.
It's the second of three meetings between the two sides this season. Toronto came into the Citrus Bowl in April and stole away three points from Orlando City in the first, winning the game 2-0 behind a pair of goals from USMNT star Jozy Altidore. That loss capped off a 1-3-0 month for Adrian Heath's side, which would go on to play much better soccer for the next two months afterwards.
Here are the highlights from that match, in case you're one to put bad losses behind you:
The teams are both in different positions heading into this week's match-up. Toronto will be without Altidore this time around, after the American striker was sent off in Saturday's match against the New England Revolution for stomping on a player. Although Altidore has been in a bit of a funk lately, including the Gold Cup for the USMNT, he's a player that Toronto would rather have on the field. TFC could also be without their captain, Michael Bradley, who is questionable for the match with a calf injury that held him out of both the MLS All-Star Game last week and Saturday's match against New England.
Formation And Starting XI
Orlando City: Adrian Heath is well-known in Orlando for his 4-2-3-1 formation, but most fans also know that the Gaffer isn't afraid to change things up when the team is struggling. After going winless in July, Heath went into Saturday's game against Columbus sporting the 4-3-3. It wasn't the first time we had seen it this season -- you may remember Orlando City using it, successfully even, against the Portland Timbers earlier in the season. However, the team that used it was much different than the one that lined up against the Crew.
Carlos Rivas and Rafael Ramos both sat out with injuries over the weekend. With Rivas, as well as Lewis Neal, out, Heath tossed Luke Boden into the left wing spot with Corey Ashe sticking at left back. Those two combined to play very well together on the left side. The three-man defensive midfield also showed up again, and also played well. Darwin Cerén and Cristian Higuita are continuing to build a strong relationship in the middle -- so much so that it forced Amobi Okugo out of town.
With no real updates on Rivas and Ramos at the time of writing this preview (though Ramos did not train with the team on Monday), I'm under the assumption that Orlando City will have pretty much the same squad available on Wednesday night, meaning the 4-3-3 could be making its way up north, too.
The formation worked in a few different ways on Saturday night. First, it opened up a lot more space for the Lions to work down the wings. Ashe and Boden were running wild down the left side, while Cerén was putting in a lot work on the right in front of Tyler Turner, who was playing in place of Ramos. Kaká sits as the right-winger in this 4-3-3, but he'll spend most of his time working around the middle, just under Larin. That doesn't mean he won't get out wide, though.
There were also times on Saturday when Boden would drop back and this 4-3-3 would start looking like a 4-4-2, with Kaká and Larin running the show up top. Boden and Kaká can both drop too, changing it to more of a 4-3-2-1. Any way you look at it, it's a lineup that can favor this group a little more than the standard 4-2-3-1 because it offers plenty of flexibility throughout the match.
Toronto FC: As I mentioned above, Toronto will be fighting an uphill battle from the start with Altidore, and likely Bradley, sitting this one out. Barring some unforeseen injury, it looks like Giovinco will be the lone DP in the lineup for the Reds.
Giovinco is arguably the best player in MLS right now, and it's almost not even close. The 28-year-old comes into the match as an MVP favorite, with 13 goals and 10 assists through his first 20 MLS games -- he's doing it all for Toronto. With no Altidore or Bradley to look after, Orlando City is likely going to amp up the pressure on Giovinco, trying to make sure he can't beat them.
Elsewhere on the roster, Robbie Findley is one of the faces that could replace Jozy up top next to Giovinco. Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado are another pair of names to watch in the Toronto midfield. With all of the focus on the Atomic Ant, Orlando City can't sleep on those two.
What To Watch For
Cyle Larin Returns Home: Born just outside of Toronto, Wednesday night's game will feel like a coming home party for Larin, the 20-year-old Rookie of the Year favorite, who has adjusted just fine in MLS with Orlando City this season.
Larin came back to Orlando after a pretty disappointing Gold Cup, then continued that with a red card against the New York Red Bulls. The card would be overturned, of course, letting Larin play against New York City FC the following week. He'd go on to have his best game as a pro, recording his first career hat trick, which he followed up on Saturday with another pair of goals.
Tomorrow night, Larin will have a chance to break the MLS rookie goal-scoring record in front of many friends and family members if he can notch his 12th goal of the season.
Three Keys For Orlando City
- Stop Giovinco -- seriously, don't let him beat you
- Get the ball to Larin -- this kid's full of confidence right now
- Control the wings, especially with Boden and Ashe on the left
Prediction: Orlando City 2, Toronto FC 1
Orlando City has been able to get results on the road this season -- the 5-3 loss at NYCFC not withstanding -- and Wednesday's game against Toronto will be a great chance to grab some points in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. It's a game they have to capitalize on, and I think they will, with Kaká and Larin doing the scoring in this one.
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Wednesday's match is set for 8 p.m. and the game will air on WRBW-Channel 65 and Sun Sports locally.