As you've probably heard by now, Orlando City will be without their captain and star player, Kaká, on Saturday night when they face the New England Revolution in a pivotal match inside Gillette Stadium. With the Brazilian international unavailable as the Seleção prepare for a friendly with the USMNT two days later, the Lions will be forced to play without their leader for the third time in league play this season.
As you might imagine, Orlando's first two MLS outings without Ricky haven't gone too well.
The first match Kaká missed was a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas on July 12, the result of a straight red card handed down at Real Salt Lake on July 4. The second Kaká-less match was the first of Orlando's two recent beatings in Toronto, a 4-1 rout on Aug. 5 highlighted by a Sebastian Giovinco hat trick.
Without their star man in the middle of the pitch, City suffered creatively and had no answers in attack in these two losses.
An attack that has already struggled to manufacture chances—OCSC averages just 3.5 shots on target per game in 2015, tied with Houston for lowest in MLS—found it even tougher to generate offense against Dallas and Toronto, mustering just three combined shots on goal across the two matches. The Lions average 11.3 total shots per game on the season but have only been able to get off 10 shots combined in games without Kaká, with one of those shots coming from the spot on a failed penalty by Carlos Rivas late in the Dallas loss.
The Lions' league-best passing efficiency failed to hit 80 percent in either outing and, despite owning possession in both, the ball was played in Orlando's attacking third for just 22 percent of each match. This illustrates the relative uselessness of possession as a statistic if that possession is not put to good use.
Another factor in the Lions being outscored by a combined six goals to one in these matches was the disparity in key passes between OCSC and its opponents. Orlando produced only three key passes in each game, a stat which goes hand-in-hand with their lack of attempts at goal. At the same time, the Lions were shredded by their foes, particularly Toronto, in allowing 23 such passes (with a staggering 15 for TFC).
Unfortunately for Orlando City, in each of Kaká's missed league games the Lions have simultaneously had to deal with the absences of other key players.
Against Dallas, Orlando was without Darwin Cerén and Cyle Larin due to the Gold Cup and trotted out Pedro Ribeiro in the No. 10 spot with Rivas up top and Harrison Heath slotted into central midfield. At Toronto, Orlando was missing right back Rafael Ramos and got next to nothing from its right side duo of Tyler Turner and Lewis Neal while attacking primarily up the left side of a 4-3-3 formation, featuring Luke Boden at left wing and Corey Ashe at the back.
This Saturday, the Lions will be missing Larin and Cerén once again to international duty and will also be without the services of Rivas due to suspension from yellow card accumulation. The possible return of Brek Shea could provide a lift, but manager Adrian Heath didn't sound overly optimistic about Shea's chances to play on Tuesday night's call-in show.
With their playoff chances once again hanging in the balance, the Lions will have to find a way to generate offensive production away from home without their Brazilian engine in the middle in a way that they could not against FC Dallas and Toronto, regardless of what lineup Heath opts to deploy.