Despite only taking two points from its season-opening home stand, Orlando City (0-0-2, 2 points) has reason for optimism as it takes on New York City FC (1-0-1, 4 points) in the first road game of 2016:
A) The Lions currently employ Cyle Larin
B) The match will be played in New York
The last time Orlando's star striker took the pitch at Yankee Stadium, he put on an electrifying performance and bagged a hat trick that put the rest of MLS on notice. But he's going to need some help if Orlando hopes to avoid a different result than the 5-3 defeat it suffered against NYCFC last year.
With Kaká unlikely to play on Friday, the Lions will count on guys like Larin, Brek Shea and Antonio Nocerino to step up against their expansion siblings. It's not going to be easy, but a result against New York could be pivotal with the defending MLS champion Portland Timbers coming to town next week.
Starting XI and Lineups:
Only one change for the Lions, as Darwin Cerén returns to the starting lineup after serving a red-card suspension against Chicago last weekend. He could be a crucial addition to the starting XI, as Orlando looks to slow down an NYCFC attack that scored six goals over the team's first two matches of the season. Cerén's two-way ability and offensive creativity from the back could be key to Orlando getting a result in this one.
Kaká is expected to miss his third straight game with a lingering thigh injury and the Lions will certainly miss his presence in midfield. But that means Larin will once again be the fulcrum of Orlando's attack, so expect plenty of balls over the top directed towards the Canadian.
I'm also interested to see what Nocerino can do in his second start with Orlando, as the Italian should benefit from another week of training with the team and adjusting to life in North America. He was understandably quiet against Chicago last week, and may struggle playing in NYCFC's sandbox-sized pitch, but some improvement from Nocerino should definitely be expected.
Even after letting a lead slip away against Toronto last week, New York City FC has to be pretty happy with the beginning of its sophomore season in MLS. Despite all the grief they get about being a retirement home for European stars, NYCFC has actually developed some promising youngsters in Khiry Shelton and Kwadwo Poku.
But luckily for the Lions, NYCFC will be down a legend on Friday night.
Frank Lampard will miss his third straight game with a calf strain, which has allowed Tommy McNamara to become something of a cult hero in New York. His golazo in the club's opening week victory over Chicago endeared to him just about every NYCFC fan with a love of spectacular goals and flowing locks. Seriously, he and Mix Diskerud should launch a line of hair care products or something.
Player(s) to Watch:
Where to start with NYCFC?
If those new Heineken commercials are to be believed, then the man we apparently should call "Soccer" will be one to watch out for on Friday night. But seriously, David Villa has been pretty spectacular since coming over to MLS last season.
He's going to cause havoc at the back against Orlando and could present 19-year-old Tommy Redding with the greatest test of his professional career. Think about it: When Villa scored his first World Cup goal with Spain in 2006, Redding was 9 years old.
This is going to be interesting.
The battle between Andrea Pirlo and Nocerino is also going to be a fun matchup to watch, as the two former members of the Azzurri square off in the midfield.
But I think one of the more underrated guys on NYCFC is right back Andoni Iraola. He doesn't command the headlines or DP money like Villa, Lampard and Pirlo, but the 33-year-old defender has over 400 appearances with La Liga club Athletic Bilbao under his belt. He's nursing a hamstring injury, but if the Spanish international plays against Orlando, he should give Shea everything he can handle along the flanks.
Prediction: New York City FC 2, Orlando City 1
I think these teams are pretty evenly matched at full strength, but given Orlando's current injuries and less-than-stellar form, it's hard to pick against the home team in this one.
New York just has too many weapons that can burn Orlando on Yankee Stadium's little league pitch, and I don't see how the Lions are going to slow down the likes of Villa and Diskerud in the final third.
With Patrick Vieira focused on keeping Larin under control, the Lions are going to need someone else to contribute on the offensive attack. One obvious candidate is Kevin Molino, who looked dangerous in these teams' first MLS meeting last March. If the Trinidadian can make an impact, then the Lions have chance.
Oh, and you have to think the magical forehead of Seb Hines can do something with those tantalizingly close corner flags at Yankee Stadium.
A draw would be a good result for Orlando City in this one. I just don't know if the Lions will have what it takes to pull that off.