With Orlando City's second Major League Soccer season now just a week and one day from starting, there's a lot of excitement in the air. And there's still a lot to unpack before the first ball is even kicked at the Citrus Bowl on March 6.
Never fear, your weekly roundtable discussion is here.
Taking their seats at the table this week are our Gavin Ewbank, Lindsay Harrison and Luis Hernandez. This week's trio of The Mane Land staffers offer up their thoughts on what we might see on opening day and well into the 2016 season on such topics as lineups, Cyle Larin's production, Antonio Nocerino and Orlando's young players.
Lately there's been a lot of talk from the club about last year's opening day sellout and the #FillTheBowlAgain campaign. Will the Citrus Bowl be full again on March 6? Why or why not?
Gavin: I think it's going to be very close. A lot of tickets will have to be sold at the stadium on game day, but I think that ultimately we'll be sitting in another full Citrus Bowl for the final time on March 6.
Luis: 62,510, that's the magic number the club is trying to replicate against Real Salt Lake. There's no doubt the team is well supported in the City Beautiful, and #FillTheBowlAgain will be a success. The announced attendance will be 62,510. The plan of Kickoff Week is to include a ticket into the cost of each planned event. Running a 5K is a popular thing in Central Florida, so the Purple Pride 5K will generate ticket sales, as will the pub crawl. Honestly, booze is almost a large part of soccer. Take a look at the Orlando City kickoff page. Gone are Soccer Under the Stars and Soccer in the City, and in their place is a tailgate party. All three events for Kickoff Week include beer in the description. It's going to be a party all week long. Orlando will be painted in purple. Combine all that with the Orlando City/Pride home opener two-pack. No doubt the bowl will be filled. This might even carry over, and Orlando might break NWSL attendance records for the Pride's first home match.
Lindsay: As much as I would love to say yes, I have to say no. The 2015 inaugural campaign to #FillTheBowl was an extraordinary push by the club to mobilize fan bases everywhere, including (I'm almost sure) kidnapping tourists off I-Drive and bussing them to the Citrus Bowl on game day. The promotion was everywhere and you couldn't miss it. We were also matched up against the other expansion team, with huge stars on the field. It was also the first time Orlando fans would see Kaká play. Not only has the club not put forth the same effort, perceptually, but Real Salt Lake is not a big name and is not a crowd draw. We will probably actually fill the lower bowl but I don't expect it to be the same size crowd as last year -- however, I think for posterity, the club will announce that it was a sell-out, with tickets dropping from the sky for any willing takers.
Cyle Larin scored 17 goals a year ago to set the MLS rookie record. Yet he's been quiet so far in preseason. Does he reach 17 again this year, fall short, or exceed it?
Lindsay: I reference back to what Cyle said in the off-season, that he was catching flak from Kaká for having 17 goals and zero assists. I think he is going to try to be a lot more of a supportive team player this year and will probably still be high on our list of goal scorers but, with Molino coming back, and looking really fit, I think Cyle comes up short on matching his record, but he will get some assists under his belt instead.
Gavin: I don't make anything of Larin's quiet preseason. Remember, he didn't even make his first start until April last year and he still went on to score at a crazy rate. Larin will be just fine. It's hard to say whether or not he gets to 17 again. It's certainly very doable, but realistically, I'm expecting at least 15 goals out of him in Year 2.
Luis: Cyle Larin will not have a sophomore slump. Preseason gets players match fit, and the numbers don't matter as much. Larin coming into his second season as a professional now knows how to take better care of his body to keep pace for the full year. His game will improve, but he will fall short of 17 goals. He will still have double-digit goal numbers, and he will make up the difference by having five assists this season. As more teams focus on Cyle, he will know to pass to an open teammate instead of forcing a bad shot.
What's your starting XI for opening day?
Luis: The starting XI facing Real Salt Lake line up in Coach Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation. There's little doubt Joe Bendik wins the start as goalkeeper. The back line will have Ramos on the right and Shea on the left with Collin and Mateos as the opening day center backs. Cristian Higuita is suspended for the first match due to a red card given by Chris Penso, ironically. Heath will put out Cerén paired with Carrasco while Nocerino, Kaká, and Molino back Larin on top.
Lindsay: GK: Bendik; D: Shea, Collin, Mateos, Ramos; DM: Ceren, Carrasco; M: Laryea, Kaká, Molino; F: Larin
Gavin: I think we see a lot of the 4-3-2-1 with all three defensive midfielders in the lineup; but with Cristian Higuita suspended for the opening game, it'll probably be the normal 4-2-3-1: Bendik; Ramos, Collin, Mateos, Shea; Nocerino (if ready), Ceren; Molino, Kaká, Rivas; Larin.
Antonio Nocerino was the big name off-season signing. How will he impact the team and where do you think he'll play most of his minutes?
Gavin: I think Nocerino will have a big impact on the team in more ways than just production. At worst, he's depth at a lot of key positions in the midfield. Most of his minutes will probably be allocated into the defensive midfield, but we're going to see the Italian ply his trade across the midfield during a season that will see a few Olympic and Copa America call-ups, as well as the unexpected injuries and suspensions.
Lindsay: I still maintain that Nocerino is a strange signing, to say the least. I see him playing behind Kaká or on the attacking left side. He hasn't had a lot of playing time with Milan in the recent past and he has yet to arrive to be seen at practice with the Lions, so it's hard to say how he will perform during the season. I just hope they didn't sign a very expensive lemon.
Luis: Antonio Nocerino is going to give the Lions depth and flexibility. He's going to begin the season at left wing and work with Kaká until he gets more familiar with the rest of his new teammates. Rivas having a hamstring injury might actually work as a blessing in disguise. Once Rivas comes back, I can see Heath using Nocerino all over the midfield, pushing other players for starting minutes. By the second half of the season, I think he will be logging most of his minutes in a defensive midfielder role.
Which young player will be the first to step up and see significant minutes this season?
Luis: I'm hoping our young players spend most of time down in OCB instead of in the starting XI at the Citrus Bowl, but the one player who I see surprising everyone and make an impact with the first team is Tommy Redding. There is a higher level of expectation for Tommy, and he appears not to be wilting under that pressure. I think his confidence is high from the January U-20 national team call-up and he's ridden that momentum into a very positive preseason. Redding is going to be taking the trip down to Melbourne, but it's not going to be a one-way ticket.
Gavin: I expect to see a lot more of Tommy Redding this season, especially as the season wears on with 16 games in July-September. Redding looked more than willing to meet the task when he debuted late last season, and I think he's going to be up for the starting job come 2017. But for now, he'll be an important young piece to this team in 2016.
Lindsay: SuperDraft pick-up Richie Laryea has been seeing some decent playing time in preseason and I think that his on- and off-pitch connection to Cyle Larin will make for some exciting connections during the season. As a GA player, it would be great to see him have similar success to Larin last year.
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That's your roundtable discussion for this week. Feel free to add your answers to these questions or explain why our staff is right/wrong in their predictions or analysis in the comments section below.
Next week, we'll focus on the opening match against Real Salt Lake.