The saying "better late than never" was never more apparently proven than Sunday, when Orlando City scored twice in stoppage time to erase a 2-0 deficit and earn a hard-fought draw against Real Salt Lake. Adrian Winter came on and did his Energizer Bunny routine, adding pace and life into a side that had been put to sleep in the second half by RSL's possession game. He and Cyle Larin provided the fireworks for a huge opening day crowd and got the team a draw that felt like a win.
With Chicago coming up tonight, it's time to go back to the Mane Land Roundtable to get our staff's takes on what we might see tonight. For this week, we've got Austin David, Scott Crumbly and Rich Shock taking their seats at the table. Let's get right to it.
With Kaká out, Adrian Heath pushed Brek Shea forward into the attacking midfield, where he and Molino were a mixed bag on Sunday vs. RSL. How do you see Heath's attacking forces being distributed against Chicago on Friday?
Austin: I think it all depends on whether Antonio Nocerino is ready to play. A week of training with the team doesn't instill full confidence for me in terms of chemistry and creativity in the attacking third. Personally, I'd run the same attacking force as the RSL game, with Shea, Larin, and Molino up top. The drawbacks last week were that the lineup wasn't quite cohesive enough, with those three having not trained together up front all preseason. Now, they have a week of training to put something together and come out with a better game plan attacking wise. If it's still not working out, then Heath could possibly bring on Nocerino in the later parts of the match to get something going. This week of training should help the flow of the offense, regardless of who plays up top.
Scott: Part of me would like to see Carlos Rivas get the start on the left side of midfield, but given his ankle injury last week and Heath's propensity to throw Brek on the left wing when necessary, which we saw last season and again last week, I'd expect to see Heath stick with Shea in the advanced position and Luke Boden at the back.
Otherwise I think Heath will keep it the same with Kevin Molino out on the right behind Cyle Larin at center forward. That group created a number of dangerous chances against RSL and will be going against a Chicago defense that just allowed four goals to NYCFC. Adrian Winter is there to provide a second-half boost if needed, as he did last week.
Rich: I'm going to be a little unconventional with this answer -- and I'm sure that will come back to haunt me -- but I don't think we'll see Shea and Molino paired in the attacking midfield again. Shea is a dangerous player getting up the flanks and putting crosses into the box -- we saw that with the nonchalant ball across the box that ended up as Larin's first goal on Sunday. But he looked uncomfortable pinched inside and Boden wasn't able to generate the same threat down the left flank as Ramos was down the right. I expect to see Shea moved back to his left back position and Molino paired up with someone new. (#foreshadowing)
We get Cristian Higuita back but now Darwin Ceren is suspended. Is this a simple case of a Ribeiro-Nocerino-Higuita defensive midfield this week or do you expect a shape change in Game 2?
Rich: Here's my continued unconventional answer to question 1: Nocerino starts, but not as a defensive midfielder. I think we'll see Carrasco start again in the holding midfield position with Higuita to his right and Ribeiro to his left. I don't think the Lions will come out in a 4-3-3 again on Friday; it seems much more likely that they will play a defined 4-3-2-1 with Nocerino and Molino as the two attacking midfielders. Carrasco had a solid outing -- aside from a lazy tackle that eventually led to RSL's second goal -- and it will be good to see Ribeiro and Higuita anchor that midfield as well. I expect Nocerino to start as the left attacking midfielder and to check into the midfield to collect the ball and give Orlando a 4-4-1-1 look at times. I doubt he goes the full 90 minutes though and either Rivas or Winter will replace him at some point in the second half.
Austin: I'd say Carrasco still starts over Nocerino, with the others still in the defensive midfield. I could see Nocerino come off the bench to spur someone either in the attack or in the midfield, but I don't think there's a huge reason to rush him into the starting 11. Carrasco is a serviceable midfielder and can do a good job distributing the ball wide, so I don't have a problem with him playing again in the defensive mid. Nocerino, if he does start, will most likely play more of an attacking role, which may switch up the formation a bit. Again, that's all contingent on the Italian's readiness to get in the starting spot.
Scott: I personally would rather see Heath play Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco in his three-man midfield. While Ribeiro does look more comfortable in the central midfield than he did up front, he still looks to be lumbering a bit. Higuita was one of the most talented young mids in MLS last season, so he's an obvious choice to slot in coming back off suspension, with a Higuita-Nocerino-Cerén trio being the eventual ideal behind attacking mids Kaká and Molino once all are fit and eligible at the same time.
Cyle Larin had a tough preseason and struggled at times against Real Salt Lake. Still, Kid Fantastic impacted the end of the game with a goal and an assist. Was this just a case of him pressing and now that he's scored he can relax and play his game or will we see inconsistencies in his sophomore year?
Scott: I think it was a bit of both. Larin was clearly exhausted after the final whistle, and admitted he's going to have to get used to teams trying to rough him up this year. Still, I think the clinical finish followed by the game-winning assist will certainly help his confidence moving forward, and despite some frustration Sunday he was an offside call and a one-on-one save by Nick Rimando away from making it two or three goals vs. RSL.
Rich: Larin will struggle some in his second year, but I would be surprised if that's totally attributed to the "sophomore slump." He is a defined striker in this league and teams will prepare for him specifically; he should be ready for some added attention and not be surprised when it isn't as easy the second time around. With that being said, a healthy Orlando City will provide ample opportunities for Larin to score -- if we're being honest, he could have had three or four on Sunday alone.
Austin: With any young player, you're going to see some inconsistencies pop up now and again. Having that goal and his first career assist will definitely help him mentally when it comes to his play on the pitch, but time will tell how his second season in MLS goes. It's only one game in and there's not enough to make a calculated call whether Larin will or won't live up to expectations. As far as this week goes, Larin's coming up against a shaky (at best) Chicago Fire defense, so scoring a goal or two is within the realm of possibility and that could only help him going forward.
With David Mateos out, what did you make of the Seb Hines - Tommy Redding pairing at central defense against a good RSL attack force?
Scott: I thought Hines and Redding played fairly well and would like to see how they play alongside one another as they continue to develop familiarity. Redding fared well against a dangerous trio of attackers, and his on-ball abilities complement the physical game of Hines. I'd obviously like to see Hines refrain from clumsy challenges in the box when the attacker has an acute angle at goal and the keeper still to beat, though.
Austin: To be honest, Hines and Redding weren't tested all too much in the RSL game. There were the counter attacks and opportunities early on, but in those instances, they seemed to hold their own. Aside from the Hines penalty, they were a serviceable back pairing, but may be tested a bit more with the speed of David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike up top for the Fire.
Rich: Redding was awesome against RSL and would have been my MOTM had Winter not come on and saved the day. He was solid in the back of the team and didn't really get himself turned around too often. He got beat over the top on the ball that eventually led to RSL's penalty kick, but recovered well enough that he probably saved Hines from getting a straight red. Both Hines and Redding seemed comfortable with each other and that should be a pairing that Orlando City fans are happy to see out on the pitch again on Friday.
What is your projected lineup and score line for Friday night vs. the Fire?
Austin: With Nocerino possibly getting into the fold this week, I could see the same lineup as last week if he does not play (Higuita in for Ceren though), but if he does end up in the lineup, he would take either the left wing or Carrasco's spot in the 4-3-2-1. Either that, or Heath goes back to the 4-2-3-1 and puts him in the central attacking midfield, with Molino and Winter on the wings. The nice thing is that the team has options, which isn't something we could have said in the past.
Rich: I think the Lions win 3-1 and Nocerino scores his first goal. Bendik; Ramos, Redding, Hines, Shea; Higuita, Carrasco, Ribeiro; Molino, Nocerino; Larin
Scott: Bendik; Boden, Hines, Redding, Ramos; Higuita, Carrasco, Nocerino; Shea, Molino; Larin in a 4-3-2-1 alignment. I'll predict a 3-1 win for the Lions, playing at home against of a less-than-stout back line.
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That's your roundtable discussion for Week 2. 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.