Orlando City has been playing much better over the last two weeks than it had over July and August, and the big surprise coming from these results has been they have come without their captain, Kaká. Due to these unforeseen circumstances, this has actually been a blessing in disguise for the younger players for the Lions.
First off, let me say that Lewis Neal is not the perfect replacement for Kaká. The captain is still a world class player and is paid to be the guy running the midfield. However, since the absence of Kaká, the midfield players for Orlando have had to grow up on the field. Usually when Kaká was playing, the midfield players always looked to get him the ball and teams would key in on this. Orlando's players would be trying to find Kaká in the midfield and the opposition defended him tightly, not allowing him to create the offense off the dribble. As a result, the ball hardly moved into enemy territory for Orlando.
Now, what Orlando has been doing over the last two games is playing out wide more often. Hardly any of the time, the ball is played in to Neal, and when it is, it's usually a one-touch pass to swing it out to the wing again. This method has worked for Orlando for the past few games and has made the offense less predictable for opposing defenses.
This has also given more freedom for those midfield players to realize that they can do more than just pass the ball to Kaká every time. Cristian Higuita is a perfect example of this progression. The last few games he has been the catalyst in the midfield in the Brazilian's absence and has done incredibly well on both sides of the ball.
Not only is this good for Higuita's career progression, but when Kaká comes back this week against New York, he will be more free to get into dangerous positions in the attacking third, rather than having to come all the way back to midfield and take the ball from there. It adds a whole new element to Orlando's attack when combined together with the emergence of Bryan Rochez, Adrian Winter and the return of Brek Shea.
As long as the young Orlando players don't fall back into the habit of trying to force the ball to Kaká every single time, this Lions team could have a very good run over the last four games of the season and possibly even make it into that last playoff spot. We shall have to see on Friday in New York if everything comes together.