It's Week 3 and with that comes Orlando City's first road trip of the season. The Lions travel to the Big Apple to take on the
soccer Yankees Manchester City B New York City FC on Friday night for Viernes de Futbol. Orlando City hasn't done well on baseball fields over the last year, losing at NYCFC, Louisville City, and Jacksonville. But on the bright side, Cyle Larin has a hat trick in both trips to New York in the last year.
At any rate, it's time to unleash our Week 3 roundtable conversation on you. This week, we've got Wade Williams, Brent Petkus, and Daniel McGann seated at the big purple table. Let's get their takes on what's been going on with Orlando City and the game ahead against New York City.
The club is still tinkering with how best to manage without Kaká in 2016. What can the team do better (or at least differently) in the attack to generate more quality chances on goal without the captain?
Wade: It appears to me that the biggest issue in the final third is chemistry. Kaká is the master gear in this system -- all other gears move when he moves -- so when he is removed, gears stall, pistons misfire, and we wind up with over 20 crosses in a match, or nobody on the end of Kevin Molino's one-touch passes around and in the box. Familiarity will breed success, the group is too talented to be this incompetent for long.
Brent: I think Orlando City is doing its best currently to manage without the captain. I feel the attack is lacking in the final third. We have talked at length about Kevin Molino and how he is destined for a breakout year. The problem is we haven't seen the goal scorer Kevin Molino from the USL days. I really am looking to see Molino shoot in more situations. Rafael Ramos has to be more consistent in the attack. His crosses have been all over the pitch.
Daniel: The issue right now is turning the majority of possession that Orlando has been seen over the past two games into more chances. The team seems to be hesitant in the final third, outside of Cyle Larin, to let shots fly. This was especially seen in the Chicago match, where Orlando went up by a man for the majority of the match, held almost 65% of the possession, and still failed to pull three points at home. If Orlando is going to succeed this year the Lions will need to turn the possession and accurate passing strengths that the club saw in 2015 and at the start of this season into more goal scoring opportunities.
Antonio Nocerino finally made his debut for City on Friday. While anyone who expected him to waltz right in and dominate probably got a rude awakening, he did show glimpses of being a skilled possession player. How much longer do you expect it to take the Italian to fully make an impact on the field?
Daniel: Unfortunately, Nocerino may need a bit more time to find form in MLS than what he may be expecting. He stated that he would need approximately two weeks to be fit for Orlando. The reason being is that MLS is a totally different monster than most leagues in the world, especially Serie A, where travel demands can really take a toll, while pitch conditions, (*cough* NYCFC) can also cause issues for incoming players. Given those issues in MLS, the quality that Nocerino displayed even if in minor spurts looked to be on a different level than most within MLS and, with a return of Kaká, those two could form a dangerous and exciting combination.
Wade: It is hard to answer this question with no definitive timetable for Kaká's return. I would expect it to take a couple matches with his old buddy to be fully comfortable, but we were treated to some flashes of his skill and creativity in his debut. Should be a very fun player moving forward.
Brent: No matter how great a player is it will always take a few matches to get accustomed to the style of the league. MLS is no exception. Nocerino will come into form sometime in mid-April. The big question about Nocerino is how he will play alongside Kaká. For many parts of Friday's match, his play reminded me of Kaká's. He was doing well possessing the ball and making dangerous passes in the midfield to spring Molino, Winter, Larin and Ramos. I think he is a utility guy that can be used in the defensive midfield position and out wide.
Adrian Winter was probably the best player on the pitch after his introduction against Real Salt Lake and again in the first half against Chicago. Is the Swiss midfielder a 45- to 60-minute guy? Is there anything he can do to save some energy for the final 30 minutes?
Brent: Winter will be the first sub onto the field once Carlos Rivas returns back from injury. Winter's role is to provide a spark and he did that in the first match. During the first half of the second he was easily Orlando City's best player. The problem occurred in the second half when he disappeared. I don't think he should be saving any of his energy. I believe he was the fittest player in camp during the beep test. I would rather see him off the bench.
Wade: I think he's a spark, a part time player, and there's nothing wrong with that. Across all sports, players like this have made incredible impacts for their teams. Boston Celtic great Kevin McHale was a two-time Sixth Man of the Year. John Havlicek invented the role. Desmond Howard won a Super Bowl MVP as a specialist. Mariano Rivera is one of the most revered pitchers in the history of baseball. Having a small role is fine when you maximize it, and Winter has been maximizing his time on the pitch in impressive fashion.
Daniel: The way Winter plays is really built around hustle. To ask a player to dial it down when he succeeds in that role could be challenging not only for the player but also for the coach. In a perfect world, Winter should be able to stay his same 45-60 minute energetic self while the team has the depth to either use him off the bench or sub him out early, but we all know from last year depth in MLS can fade very quickly and Winter may need to show the ability to evolve into the role needed by Heath and crew if that happens again this year. I believe he can.
Orlando City has lost in its last three road matches on baseball fields (at Yankee Stadium last year and friendlies at Louisville City and Jacksonville). Is there something about the club's tactics or shape causing this or is it simply a case of the home team knowing its field better and taking advantage?
Brent: The tactics of Orlando City make it difficult to attack on a smaller field, as Orlando likes to use the width of their outside backs to create space between the center backs. A smaller field makes the space smaller and forces you to play more direct. Most of the goals from last year's game were from long balls played to players with speed. Speed will kill on the small field and if Rivas is healthy he will greatly help the Orlando City cause. I would think you will see a similar lineup from Orlando City with Cyle Larin up top and Molino and Winter on the outside.
Daniel: Orlando is a team that likes to overlap from the back and find open space on the wings. Unfortunately, when you're playing on a barely legal pitch because of "size" issues, that can be very difficult. The tighter confines in Yankee Stadium may not actually play well to any soccer style but it can definitely hinder teams who like to play the ball wide like Orlando. Here is to hoping that MLS stops allowing games on junior pitches sometime soon. It only hurts the game.
Wade: I try not to look too much into friendlies, but this is a trend that can't be ignored. It reminds me of stories from those classic Celtic teams that would purposely run their trap defense to lead the ball handler into "dead spots" on the wooden floor. One team is familiar with those dead spots, and one team isn't. Well, when we head to the Big Apple to play the Soccer Yankees, one team will be familiar with the (laughably) odd size and dead sod on the pitch, and one team won't be. However small an advantage it may be, it is still an advantage.
We've got one last chance to grab a win in the month of March. Do the Lions get it done on the puny and ludicrous Yankee Stadium pitch? Why or why not and how does it unfold?
Wade: Of course Inchy's boys get it done. I'm specifically looking for Kevin Molino to break out. In two games he's managed an assist, two shots on goal and roughly one million key passes. Those close-but-not-quite plays will soon be additions to his earth-shattering highlight reel, with some sweet additions coming at the expense of the NYCFC back line this weekend.
Daniel: I joined a podcast for Blue City Radio and was asked this same question -- maybe not in the same context -- and I will reiterate that playing in a hostile environment without Kaká and the team still seemingly having some out-of-form moments, I still believe Orlando can come away with a point. So, my expectation for this match is a 2-2 draw, with Orlando coming home to really put it to Portland. Either way, this team will need a win soon or the Lions could find themselves looking up at most of the teams in the Eastern Conference standings.
Brent: I think they do. The streak has to stop somewhere. The only thing that has me concerned is how the center backs of Tommy Redding and Seb Hines are going to deal with David Villa. This will be the test for me on whether or not this back line can survive this year. Villa will get his opportunities and he is good for a goal. If Redding and Hines can keep him off the score sheet we will be celebrating a win. If we can't keep Villa from scoring multiple goals, look for Aurelien Collin to make his return to the lineup. For Orlando City, I think you are going to see the skill of Nocerino shine in the midfield. He is going to have lots of opportunities to beat the midfield of New York City FC. Larin will get another goal and I see Nocerino getting one as well. Prediction: Orlando City 2 NYCFC 1.
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That's your roundtable discussion for Week 3. 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.