Orlando City (8-13-8, 32 points) heads to Toyota Park on Saturday for the third time this season, as the Lions take on the Chicago Fire (7-15-6, 27 points) in a battle between two clubs still trying to sneak into the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Lions have enjoyed some success in the Windy City, grabbing a 3-2 win over the Fire on June 6. Let's all pretend that wasn't the club's last victory on the road this season. But Chicago got revenge in a U.S. Open Cup match just over a month later, ending Orlando's run through the tournament with a 3-1 win at Toyota Park. Orlando is 1-1-1 in the three competitive match-ups to date in 2015, so tomorrow night will be the rubber match.
After a 1-1 draw in Orlando just a couple weeks ago, the clubs will meet for the fourth and final time this season on Saturday in a match that neither can afford to lose. With the Fire sitting in the Eastern Conference cellar, it would take a remarkable run through the last few weeks of the season to get Chicago into the top six. Orlando is only a point behind Montreal in the race for that final playoff spot, though the Impact have played fewer matches this season.
Somebody's playoff hopes are going to take a major hit on Saturday, so let's take a look at who we can expect to see on the pitch for both clubs.
Starting XI and Lineups
There's not much reason for Adrian Heath to tinker with his 4-2-3-1 lineup after such an impressive victory against Sporting KC last week...except for the fact that one of his best players just might be available to start.
With Brek Shea nearing full strength, it's possible the Lions will have to make a decision with the starting lineup. While Shea came on last week as a substitute, it's not clear whether he's ready to play a full 90 minutes against Chicago. With that in mind, don't be surprised if Rivas gets the start again in his place. He hasn't been in the lineup against Chicago yet this season, so Shea should give the Fire a new look on Orlando's left flank.
On the other hand, Heath called his captain Kaká "day-to-day" with an injury he sustained while on international duty with Brazil. But, there's this...
Orlando will be without its biggest star against the Fire. Expect to see good old Lewis Neal in the central attacking midfielder spot.
With their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, expect to see the Fire playing with some desperation on Saturday.
As always, the club's two biggest attacking threats are Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam. The Nigerian and Ghanaian have accounted for most of the Fire's scoring, with 15 goals between them this season, including five combined goals against Orlando in three competitive matches. Jeff Larentowicz, the club's talisman and defensive stalwart, has also found the score-sheet six times in 2015.
Igboananike has been a Lion killer in 2015, with three goals against Orlando already this season. Stopping him must be a top priority for the club if they hope to get a win on Saturday.
Three Questions for Orlando City:
- What will Brek Shea's impact be? He has yet to face the Fire, which could cause concerns for the right side of the Chicago defense. But if Shea doesn't start, the Lions will have to keep the match close for him to make a difference in the second half.
- Can Adrian Winter build on his impressive performance against Sporting Kansas City? It's taken Orlando City's summer signing a couple games to really find his form in MLS, but if last weekend's match proves to be a turning point, the Lions could be in great shape coming down the stretch this season.
- Does Carlos Rivas make a case to remain in the starting lineup? The Colombian has mostly played well in Shea's absence, but with the USMNT star back in the fold, can Rivas still find playing time as an attacking midfielder? Saturday night could be his last chance to make an impression as a starter.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, Chicago Fire 0
I think last Saturday was a turning point.
While I'm not sure it means the Lions are going to make the playoffs, I do think the club is going to be competitive down the stretch this season. And that should start with a victory over the Fire.
Orlando City is simply a better team than Chicago, something that should become evident when a Lions team missing several key players is able to take three points from their visit to Toyota Park. Look for Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas and Adrian Winter to continue building chemistry up top and for the defense to turn in another vintage performance.
The playoffs may not be likely, but they'll remain a possibility for the Lions. At this point in the season, there's not much more Orlando City fans can ask for.