On Saturday night Orlando City will travel to the Midwest to take on the Chicago Fire. With the regular season dwindling and both the Fire and Lions desperate for points, both teams will be playing for the win. But that could cause problems for the visitors.
With just 27 points from their first 28 games, the Fire currently sit with the least amount of points of any MLS team. While it would seem as though the Lions should walk in and take all three points from the worst team in the league, especially after their win Sunday night against one of the best, the Fire are still a very dangerous team.
The reason why the Fire will be so dangerous to the Lions is their speed. With four of the fastest players in the league in David Accam, Patrick Nyarko, Gilberto, and Kennedy Igboananike potentially starting in their midfield, the Fire will be primed to hit the Lions off the counter attack.
"That's probably the strongest part of their team," Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath said during his weekly coach's show about the midfielders. "That's the strength on the counter attack. They're really, really quick."
Accam, Nyarko, and Igboananike have tallied six goals in the three previous meetings between these two teams this season. Four of those goals can be directly attributed to the speed of these players. In their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match on July 22, the first two goals came from balls played over the top while the third was played through for Accam by Matt Watson resulting in a goal by Igboananike. This dangerous speed was seen again in their Aug. 29 meeting when Accam scored the game's opener with a ball over the top of the defense by Razvan Cocis.
The way the Fire generally turn a counter attack, and what will undoubtedly be a focus for Orlando City Saturday night, is by playing the ball over the top of the midfield and defense allowing their speedy midfielders to run onto it. This type of play has resulted in multiple goals this season against the Lions and has created even more chances for the Fire.
As dangerous as the Fire's counter attack is for any team, it's even more so for Orlando City. Traditionally the Lions play a system under Heath in which they throw players forward on the attack, sometimes leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter. It's particularly been a problem when the Lions have faced teams with fast midfielders such as Kekuta Manneh of the Vancouver Whitecaps or Dominic Oduro of the Montreal Impact.
The fact that Brek Shea is back for the Lions will be a big help in defending the possible counter. During Shea's absence, a common replacement has been 21-year-old Carlos Rivas. While Rivas is clearly the fastest player Orlando City has to offer, he is notorious for not observing his defensive responsibilities. Shea, on the other hand, moved from left back to his natural left midfield earlier this year and is more than willing to make the adjustment.
The last time these two teams met, the Fire sat back defensively for much of the game at the Citrus Bowl absorbing pressure and planning to hit the Lions on the counter, particularly early. With three points a necessity for both teams and playing this time at home, the Fire will likely take the game to Orlando City in this matchup.
Currently sitting in seventh in the East -- a point behind sixth-place Montreal -- it's imperative that the Lions take maximum points from this bout. But while Orlando City will likely throw players forward in their attempt to score valuable goals, they must be aware of the Fire's counter attack, one of the most deadly in the league. It could become the downfall in the Lions' fight to reach their long stated goal of making the playoffs.