Orlando City kicks off the 2016 Major League Soccer season tomorrow in what we all hope is the club's second straight opening day sellout at the Citrus Bowl. With the entire season in front of us, we can entertain literally any possibility for the campaign ahead. But there are still a lot of questions as we prepare to square off against Real Salt Lake on Sunday.
Here to discuss the opener vs. RSL, we've assembled yet another stellar team of Mane Land staffers, seated comfortably around our large, round, purple table. This week we've got Brad Newton, Eric Ely, and Meg Van Dyk. This trio of staff writers opine below on such topics as who will score the Lions' first goal of the season, what we might expect from the referee, and the team's strengths and weaknesses as we enter the 2016 season.
To the roundtable!
The first match is imminent and the opponent is Real Salt Lake. What excites you most about this match-up?
Brad: Seeing how Kevin Molino fits back into the lineup after missing so much time. When he came on in the second half during a preseason friendly between Orlando City and Toronto FC the entire pace of the game swung in Orlando City's favor the second he stepped onto the pitch, and his play was directly responsible for both goals that helped OCSC overcome an early deficit against a team that gave the lions plenty of difficulties last season.
Eric: Apart from the new-season giddiness that the first match of the season brings, I'm looking forward to Cyle Larin picking up right where he left off after an amazing rookie campaign. I'm excited to see what he and the rest of our attack can do to a relatively aged RSL backline. I'll also be watching RSL returnee Yura Movsisyan closely to see how he re-acclimates to the league following adventures in Russia.
Meg: I am most excited to see how Adrian Heath plans to take on this somewhat evenly matched team. With lots of new players coming in and out of camp, it will be interesting to see how Orlando fares against a team who hasn't been without as many players. Also, the new influx of talent up top should allow Orlando to score more easily against a strong Real Salt Lake defense, and the fact that the bowl will be close to filled should create a fun atmosphere.
Orlando City drew last season at Real Salt Lake in a game that saw Kaká (of all people) get sent off. Last year's season opener saw Aurelien Collin get red carded. Can Orlando City make it through this match without a player sent off?
Eric: We can only hope so! Although I doubt last season's controversial sending off of Kaká will linger into this year's opener, it is a remote possibility. I expect an intense game as both teams look to start their MLS campaigns off on the right foot, but hopefully there won't be any nonsense and we see a clean, well-played game at the Citrus Bowl.
Meg: The hope is that no one ever gets a red card. Often times a red card signifies that a game has gotten out of hand and is being played sloppily. So, yes I would hope to not see anyone sent off, because I want to see Orlando play with class and skill, not aggression.
Brad: Collin is a reserve now and Sorin Stoica (the ref who sent off Kaká) isn't officiating this game, so, probably? On the other hand it's Chris Penso who handed OCSC seven cards in last season's disappointing finale against Philadelphia, including a red card to Christian Higuita, so probably not? Yeah, Someone is getting sent off for something dumb. This is going to mirror Orlando City's big problem last year in that they lacked discipline and would let their emotions get the better of them. Having gotten as close as they did to making the playoffs but ultimately missing out I believe will help get them focused and limit the unnecessary disciplinary actions.
Call your shot. Who will score the Lions' first goal of the 2016 season? And will it come Sunday against a pretty good defensive club in RSL?
Meg: Cyle Larin will score the first goal. We've seen him score against some strong sides and I think he is ready to step up and take more of a goal-scoring role.
Brad: I expect that the Lions' first goal may come from an unlikely source. Pedro Ribeiro has been a revelation since moving into midfield and working alongside Antonio Nocerino might prove to be very fruitful, but I would not be surprised to see "Offensive Maestro Seb Hines" (that's his official title now, per me) open up Orlando City's 2016 book. Either scenario is more than likely coming off a Kaká set piece.
Eric: I'll go with Kaká via free kick or penalty.
What is Orlando City's greatest strength entering 2016? What is the team's biggest weakness?
Eric: Two weaknesses stand out, one more so than the other. I am concerned about Joe Bendik in goal. After splitting time last year in Toronto I hope the move to Orlando has a positive effect on his attitude and motivates him to perform well. The other is the potential lack of depth depending on summer call-ups. Without knowing how this will shake out, the severity of this issue is a great unknown, especially when injuries are also considered. On the other side, OCSC's midfield play stands out as a strength. I'm expecting big things from Kaká in year two. At times last season he seemed to drift out of matches and almost seem disinterested. Hopefully a season-long playoff push will keep him and the rest of the roster playing at a high level. I like what Darwin Ceren brings to the table. It will also be interesting to watch Kevin Molino throughout the year after last season's injury shortened campaign.
Brad: Their greatest strength is easily their attack. If Molino, Kaká, and Larin all get into the area they're as dangerous as any trio in the league. There is some real potential to see an offense that MLS teams just aren't equipped to handle. MLS goalkeeping isn't stellar and these players can generate some potent offense once they slip past defenders. As for weaknesses? It's their goalkeeping and back line. Joe Bendik isn't worse than Tally Hall and he isn't much of a markable improvement over him either (aside from not having ligaments in his knees made of tissue paper). If Brek Shea can stay healthy and anchor the line, he can help turn Orlando's biggest weakness into a strength before the season's end.
Meg: Their greatest strength is going to be their depth, while last year it was their biggest weakness. I think during the offseason the front office worked to eliminate that weak spot and in my opinion they were successful. Now their struggle is going to be chemistry. They have new players who may still not be familiar with one another. With other players coming in and out of training it will be interesting to see how they play together, not having a whole lot of time to mesh.
What is the key to Sunday's match and what kind of result will Orlando City get from its meeting with Real Salt Lake?
Brad: This game may not come down to last minute heroics off a set piece from Orlando City's captain the way last year's game concluded, but it will be a close affair. Assuming Real Salt Lake (ugh, why are they called that? What royalty has emerged from Utah? The Osmonds?) parks the bus and stifles Orlando City's attack, there may be some fatigue that sets in and the Lions may fade down the stretch, allowing RSL to open up the attack. Conversely, if Orlando City can capitalize early and keep the foot on the gas, this may be the first chapter in a season to remember in the City Beautiful.
Meg: The key will be communication. There are a lot of new players who don't yet know the atmosphere Orlando plays in and it can be a bit of a shock to new players. If the team can communicate, execute, and play with class, there is no reason they shouldn't walk away with the win.
Eric: It's obviously early, but RSL's participation in CCL play in midweek may psychologically, if not physically, have a carryover effect on the players. For me, the key to Sunday's opener will be the battle in the midfield. I'll be watching Kyle Beckerman and Kaká in particular to see who will be able to impose himself on the game. I'm not one for predictions, but I see a draw, so I'll go with RSL 1-1 OCSC.
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That's your roundtable discussion for opening 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.