We've got another 10 days before the next Orlando City game, after the Lions escaped from New York with three points and five from the first three matches of the 2016 MLS season. Next up on the schedule is the defending champion Portland Timbers on Sunday, April 3.
What did we learn about Orlando City against NYCFC and in the first three games of the season? What do we know about Major League Soccer overall? Joining us to discuss this at this week's edition of the roundtable are Kyle Foley, Austin Siegel, and Jeff Milby. It's their turn at the big purple table and it's time for them to answer the questions of the week (although maybe I should have thrown out question three, since everyone answered the same).
Orlando City held off New York City FC despite ceding possession for about the last 70 minutes of the match. How did they do it? Do you think they meant to absorb pressure for so long after grabbing the early lead or was that just a byproduct of being outplayed in the possession game?
Kyle: I think it was part of the game plan as well as a slight byproduct. Orlando knew that after it scored early, it could afford to absorb some pressure but it knew that because the contributing factors (lineup, pitch width, etc.) led it to have to play on the defensive anyway.
Austin: With Kaká on the mend and Antonio Nocerino still learning everyone's name, I think it's only natural that Orlando struggled in the midfield against NYCFC. Whatever plan the Lions had on Friday night probably went out the window when both Cyle Larin and Nocerino were forced to exit early in the second half, but the team's saving grace came in the final 30 minutes. Adrian Winter and Kevin Molino finally generated something on the counter, which kept New York from bringing everyone forward. Factor in Joe Bendik's best game as a Lion, and it was enough for Orlando to grab all three points on Friday night.
Jeff: As a byproduct of building the league on parity, it's especially true in MLS that game states dictate play more than anything. Week after week, you can see winning teams concede the majority of possession to their opponents, which can be explained away with this reason in a major way. Orlando City scored an early goal against NYCFC, and therefore the game state dictated that New York would dominate possession. Throw in the fact that the Lions were on the road, and it only makes sense the possession stats played out as they did. Orlando won a road game the way a road team should. Orlando conceded possession in three of its five road victories last season.
There's been a lot of talk about Kevin Molino's quality in the final third over the first three weeks of the season. Do you see a Kaká return opening up space for him and allowing for more success? Is this a confidence issue? Or, more ominously, is Kevin not yet ready for prime time?
Austin: Kevin Molino just can't catch a break. He came into last season expecting to be Orlando's second attacking option, until his season ended in May. With the emergence of Cyle Larin, he probably expected to be the club's third option going forward in 2016, but found himself leading the offense with three points on the line against New York. I expect the Trinidadian to improve with Orlando City's health, as opposing defenses are forced to key in on Larin and Kaká. He's already shown a knack for finding space around goal, which should only be easier behind a full strength squad.
Jeff: The return of Kaká can only help Molino's situation, but it's not farfetched to think that perhaps he wasn't quite ready for the big lights. Success at the USL level is not a direct harbinger of MLS success (see Matt Fondy in 2015 for an easy example) and that is especially the case when you consider Molino was a star in a fledgling USL. Throw in the injury and his slow start to 2015 is understandable. For my money though, the jury is out until we see him play in a healthy and complete Orlando City midfield.
Kyle: I think having Kaká back will help him a bit, but I believe it's mostly a confidence issue. After his ACL injury, he needs to return to his 2014 form and I believe he will do so when he isn't being counted on as the main facilitator.
Through three games, which Orlando City player is your most pleasant surprise and who has been a bit of a disappointment so far?
Jeff: Tommy Redding has been a pleasant surprise for me. It's not easy to play in MLS at 19 and he has fared reasonably well in his three assignments. Things are looking up for the HGP, and international duty with the U.S. U-19s is only going to help continue his growth and development. As far as disappointments go, I've got to call out Cyle Larin. I really expected the kid to have set the single season scoring record by now (kidding). It's really too early in the season to begin pointing fingers, but Brek Shea has continued to be consistently inconsistent. Granted, we're only three weeks into the summer-long grind that is MLS.
Kyle: Tommy Redding has been beyond impressive, for such a young kid performing at this level, the way he is, is incredibly impressive. Brek Shea has been the biggest disappointment for me. I'm a firm believer that the move to left back is not the best move for him as he's looked inconsistent at best and apathetic at times.
Austin: Tommy Redding has got to be the surprise of the young season, considering he wasn't even guaranteed playing time off the bench when preseason camp opened up. He kept David Villa under control last week (my favorite Orlando City fact of the season: Redding was nine when Villa scored his first World Cup goal) and he's currently playing well enough to keep a former MLS All-Star on the bench in Aurélien Collin. Biggest disappointment has probably been Brek Shea. Injuries have forced him between the attacking midfield and back line, but he hasn't played very well in either spot. Hopefully another USMNT snub will motivate him to improve, but with the exception of his assist against RSL, Shea hasn't been much of a factor this season.
For Orlando City, who benefits the most from this international break and who (if anyone) does it hurt most?
Kyle: I think Kevin Molino benefits the most, with the opportunity to get some time in for Trinidad and Tobago. I also think this week helps Kaká as he isn't being rushed to return to match fitness so quickly.
Jeff: I think it benefits Kevin Molino quite a bit. Being called up to the Trinidad & Tobago squad for a game against St. Vincent & the Grenadines could be the jump-start of form and confidence he needs. On the other side of the coin, the only way this break could harm any of Orlando's players is if the dreaded injury bug lays claim to any of the players on international duty. If anything, the week off gives Orlando more time to heal injuries to Kaká and the recently returned Carlos Rivas, while allowing the team to continue to gel.
Austin: You have to think Kaká benefits the most from the international break, despite the fact that his injury means he'll miss Brazil's WCQ games against Uruguay and Paraguay. Orlando will want the captain at full strength when the MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers come to town next week. The break would seem to hurt Cyle Larin's early-season momentum, but since he was playing sick against New York, maybe a trip back home for some WCQs is exactly what the Canadian needs. Even Kevin Molino will get some action with Trinidad and Tobago to help him forget about a disappointing performance against New York. In other words, I don't think the break really hurts anybody.
Clearly three matches in it's hard to take much and extrapolate it over the season, but which teams have caught your eye early in this season? Which teams will turn things around, and who are the MLS pretenders?
Kyle: Montreal has caught my eye, performing well, even without Drogba, so far. I definitely think Seattle will turn things around and San Jose is the biggest pretender.
Austin: Before the season, I thought Chicago and Philadelphia were the only teams in the Eastern Conference that Orlando City didn't have to worry about, but I'm a little worried the Union might be for real. Chris Pontius was a nice off-season pickup, and he's already helped D.C. United go from worst to first before. I think Columbus will shake off its slow start, but I'll go on record and say that either New England or D.C. miss the playoffs this season. United faded down the stretch in 2015 and it looks like they haven't rediscovered their form this year.
Jeff: FC Dallas has continued its strong upward trajectory that started last season and Kansas City is off to a perfect start without the services of last season's team MVP, Benny Feilhaber. Both of those teams should have some considerable staying power at the top of the league standings. The two biggest disappointments have to be Columbus and Seattle. Two teams that made the playoffs last year -- with realistic hopes of winning it all -- have sunken to the basement of the league table. I believe in Columbus' ability to turn things around, but I'm not a believer in Seattle anymore. It seems Sigi Schmid's window to turn the Sounders into playoff contenders ended last year, and the squad is really feeling the departure of Obafemi Martins.
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That's your roundtable discussion for this early season bye 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.