With the first week of preseason complete and the team preparing to play against Eastern Florida State, fans will be eager to see the progress of the team going into the preseason friendly in Melbourne. Although this will be the first match-up for Orlando City that isn't against themselves on the training pitch, the first true match-up will come six days later against the NASL's Jacksonville Armada.
Much like preseason last year, not all starting spots are a guarantee for this season, despite most starters returning to the club. Since the club has bolstered its depth, it will create more competition for the starting 11 and a better chance for the coaching staff to change up the lineup according to each opponent.
Going into the match-up on Feb. 13 in Jacksonville, against former Lions Miguel Gallardo and Bryan Burke, the coaches will get their first good look at the different positions for the team. So, without further ado, here are some match-ups you should keep your eye on.
With 2015 No. 1 keeper Tally Hall now gone, the competition for the new starting spot falls to new man Joe Bendik and second-year man Earl Edwards, Jr. As of right now, Bendik is the starting keeper for Orlando due to his experience and ability, but that is by no means 100%. Edwards looked solid last season in the friendlies and U.S. Open Cup games he played in, and the coaches have confidence in the 24-year-old. It's likely that the goalkeepers will play 45 minutes apiece, so each of them will get a chance to show their stuff against a professional team.
All the center-backs from last year are returning for 2016 and with them comes the reoccurring question of who will start beside Aurélien Collin. Collin, the second highest paid player on the club, is a lock for one of the two starting defensive positions. The other spot will be filled by either Seb Hines or David Mateos. Hines had a decent season and came up big towards the end to keep the Lions in the playoff hunt, however there were occasions that the Englishman showed some poor man marking and positioning. The same can be said about Mateos, the mid-season acquisition, who's lack of pace was also an issue. With the Spaniard now having a full preseason in Orlando, it will give the coaching staff a better idea of who will pair better with Collin going forward.
With the new acquisition of veteran fullback Kevin Alston, Rafael Ramos' starting spot isn't a guarantee. With Ramos having the most red cards on the team last season, the 21-year-old will have to maintain his composure and improve on marking in order to keep his spot in the starting 11. On the other side, Luke Boden will be sharing time with Brek Shea. Shea showed improvements in playing on defense, but there's still a lot to be desired from the converted midfielder. Boden has Head Coach Adrian Heath's trust, having played for him for going on five years, but just like Shea, there are improvements that can be made in terms of his speed and man marking.
Attacking Midfield and Striker
As of right now, the lineup going forward is pretty much set: Carlos Rivas on the left wing, Kaká in the center, Kevin Molino on the right wing and Cyle Larin up top. Depending on what happens with the Nocerino situation, or if one of the players has a less-than-stellar preseason, things could end up moving around. In the meantime, expect to see the usual starters out on the pitch at the same time, while the second unit of Hadji Barry, Richie Laryea, Adrian Winter and Bryan Róchez will most likely play together in the second half of the Jacksonville game.
Until then, look to see what happens on Feb. 7 when Orlando plays Eastern Florida State, and get excited for Jacksonville in 11 days.