Orlando City has two points in two matches. While two draws to open the season might have been applauded just a year ago, they smack of disappointment in 2016. The club had a man advantage for a significant number of minutes in both games and failed to capitalize. Too many chances have gone wanting and the final ball seems to be teasingly absent.
Still, another game gives us hope for that elusive first victory. Yankee Stadium seems an unlikely place to get it. Orlando City hasn't fared well on the narrow baseball field configurations the team has seen in its first year as a Major League Soccer franchise (one in MLS and two friendlies against lower leagues). Orlando City won and drew NYCFC at home and lost on the road a year ago.
This year, the New Yorkers seem to be in better early season form than Orlando. But the game must still be played and anything can happen when Cyle Larin travels to the Big Apple. Here to help us scout tonight's opponent is Jake Gofman from our NYCFC sister blog, Hudson River Blue. And if you want to see how I responded to their questions, you can check that out here.
What are New York City FC's key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how have they affected the team?
Jake Gofman: NYCFC focused on improving its porous defense this off-season, so many of our key signings are on that side of the ball. Our most high-profile additions were internationals, including LB Ronald Matarrita from Costa Rica, CB Frederic Brillant from Belgium, and CDM Federico Bravo from Argentina. I think Jack Harrison, who we acquired in the SuperDraft via trade, would be included as a big addition for the club but he has yet to see the field. We also added some depth on defense by bringing in MLS veterans Mikey Lopez and Ethan White.
Matarrita has been plugged into the starting XI and has played very well, doing an excellent job of defending on the outside and working the ball into the midfield following successful tackles. He has good control of the ball and has great speed on the outside, which allows him to contribute to the attack and track back when required.
Brillant, on the other hand, has had a shaky go of things to start his MLS career. The 30-year old was brought in to provide stability, but has looked vulnerable at times as he adjusts to MLS.
Federico Bravo is a big addition to the club because of how he allows us to play. He is a hybrid CDM-CB in our 3-2-4-1, providing cover at the back for Jason Hernandez and in front for Andrea Pirlo. Matarrita is likely our most talented signing, but Bravo may be our most important.
Many of the subtractions to the squad came from the defense as well, with our biggest being the losses of Angelino, Shay Facey and Chris Wingert. Facey and Angelino were expected to return back to Manchester City, so their departure was an inevitability. Wingert was a solid player who made 25 appearances for NYC, but his loss is not devastating and was also anticipated. The most surprising loss was our trade of CM Andrew Jacobson. Jacobson appeared in 33 games for New York, but was likely shipped out because the midfield was getting too crowded.
In all, I think NYC brought in much more talent than they lost, and the contributions from the new players have been encouraging to start the season.
NYCFC is on its second manager in just a little over a season in the league. How has Patrick Vieira changed things from the Jason Kreis days?
JG: All things considered, firing Kreis was probably unfair to the manager. He was asked to build a culture and philosophy with an incomplete squad, and it certainly didn't help that two of our DPs sauntered into the team after their European domestic seasons ended. Kreis had a style he wanted to instill and the team looked like it was getting there in the summer, only for New York to stumble towards the end of the season. That being said, Kreis made some tactical and squad-related decisions that drove fans crazy, mostly with how he interchanged the defense almost every game. Many supporters questioned the firing, and the hiring of Vieira from the ranks at City Football Group was provocative to say the least.
Vieira gradually gained the trust of fans, however, with his transparent and humble demeanor. I think many supporters see him as genuinely interested in growing with the club, and his outgoing personality is a welcome change from Kreis's prickly demeanor. Tactically, Vieira, like Kreis, wants to play a ball-control game that produces aesthetically pleasing play.
Unlike Kreis, Vieira has shown himself to be more aggressive with the formation. The manager worked with the team in preseason on implementing a back three with Bravo playing as the hybrid, and he only waited one match before implementing it against Toronto FC. Vieira has also shown his resolute nature early, sending strong messages to the players for what he expects. For example, he came out early and told the media that Lampard and Pirlo were not going to play together in a three man midfield at any point. Additionally, he has been critical of Kwadwo Poku and has indicated that Poku must learn the game before he plays with the first team.
So far, so good for Vieira, with four points out of six, but his hiring was certainly a bit of a shock and if things go sour fans may not give him the same amount of patience they gave Kreis.
What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from New York City FC this weekend against what is most likely going to be some variation of a 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3 by Orlando City, and what do you view as the game's key match-up?
JG: I would expect another three man back line again, with Bravo starting in between the midfield and the back three. The formation would be a 3-2-4-1 and it allows us to flex our muscle in the midfield and control the pace of the game. It can also leave us exposed at the back, and requires a full team effort for 90 minutes. This formation also highlights the importance of having athletic, two-way wingers who can track back defensively as well as initiate the attack and take their defenders on one-on-one. Khiry Shelton has been excellent so far in this role, and has provided plenty of cover for Frederic Brillant who is still settling into the team.
The key to the game will be these matchups on the outside. When Shelton and fellow winger Tony Taylor are caught out on attack, it leaves NYC exposed to the counter and requires strong one-v-one defending. I would anticipate Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino looking to exploit these opportunities and match-ups. How they play out on Friday could be the determining factor in the game.
What is your anticipated starting XI and score prediction for tonight?
JG: I think we see a similar formation to what we played against Toronto with the inclusion of Andoni Iraola at RB instead of Frederic Brillant.
Here's our lineup prediction: Josh Saunders; Ronald Matarrita, Jason Hernandez, Andoni Iraola; Andrea Pirlo, Federico Bravo; Tony Taylor, Thomas McNamara, Mix Diskerud, Khiry Shelton; David Villa.
As for the match, I think both clubs have the firepower to make this a high-scoring affair. I see a 3-2 NYCFC win this, with goals coming from Larin and Molino, and on NYCFC's side, from Villa, Shelton, and Mix.
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Big thanks to Jake from HRB for giving us some insight on Orlando City's fellow 2015 expansion side. These opposing team bloggers keep predicting Kevin Molino goals. It's bound to happen sooner or later!