Orlando City is coming off its first loss of the season, falling 2-1 last weekend in Philadelphia on what turned out to be a pretty controversial goal. Personally, I thought for being down four starters, on the road, on short rest, in cold weather, the Lions played an OK road game, generating chances and mostly taking care of their own end, with the notable exception of a howler by Rafael Ramos early and a tired foul in a dangerous area late.
And it still took a goal-of-the-week and a save-of-the-week candidate to get the Union the slimmest of victories.
Orlando City is coming off its first loss of the season, after coming within moments of getting a hard-fought road draw. What was the biggest factor in the outcome?
Brad: Being unable to retain possession and a lot of unnecessary mistakes by the pair of defenders on the right side. Missing four key players that had a significant impact on the match versus Portland didn't help matters, but you should've figured with the alleged new found depth that Orlando City had acquired over the off-season that this shouldn't have been a huge issue for the club.
Meg: I think the biggest factor was lack of depth. The team was missing several starters and was forced to play players who were unfamiliar with playing a full game. Towards the end they looked tired and had some slip-ups that cost them the game.
Austin: While there were multiple factors that ended up costing Orlando a point on the road, the biggest thing was probably tired legs at the end of the game. A lot has been said about Adrian Heath's lack of subs in the late stages of the match and it's possible that Inchy felt differently about using subs in the heat of the moment. But hindsight is always 20/20, so saying what he should have done isn't going to help. The best thing for the team to do is to move on and chalk it up as a learning experience, both from the players and the coaching staff.
With the club missing four starters on Friday night, which one was missed most: Brek Shea, Cristian Higuita, Tommy Redding, or Cyle Larin? Why?
Meg: Tommy Redding and Cyle Larin seemed to be the most missed. The back line was missing one of its familiar anchors, which created some gaps, allowing Philadelphia to make more clean runs on the ball. With Larin missing, Lion midfielders had to step up into an unfamiliar position where they seemed slightly off and unable to reach full potential.
Austin: It's really hard to argue who was missed the most, but I would have to say either Cyle Larin or Cristian Higuita. With Orlando having to deploy Kaká as the "false nine" in the formation, there was no real threat from a true striker on the pitch. They lacked that player who would demand attention in the box on crosses or had to be marked due to his ability to score. With Higuita missing, they missed that controlling midfielder who has paired well with Darwin Cerén many a time in games. Antonio Nocerino is not ready to be starting just yet and the chemistry with his new teammates isn't on par with that of Higuita but, given time, it could work out. Just look at Adrian Winter's progression from when he was first signed.
Brad: Higuita, no question. When we look at Orlando City's 1-0 victory over NYCFC (another match where Orlando City didn't look completely in control of the match but somehow walked out with three points), Higuita's efforts in the midfield made all the difference. Higuita's possession and distribution were sorely missed in an error-filled match that saw Orlando City drop points thanks to a last minute free kick. I mean, look at what Higuita did vs. NYCFC:
Has Adrian Winter done enough in five matches to have earned a starting spot in the lineup even if Adrian Heath had an entirely healthy roster to work with?
Austin: This is an intriguing question because he absolutely has earned a starting spot on this team and has played both the right and left wings incredibly well. However, if you were to try and play him over Molino, I'm not sure that's ready to be the case. Adrian Heath has worked with Molino since 2011 and knows what he's capable of, probably even more than Molino himself. I can't see Heath giving up on him so early in the season, since he is still creating chances for others. Winter has proved that he can play on both wings, so starting him on the left is a definite option going forward and with Carlos Rivas still working back to 100%, that may be what we see on Sunday.
Brad: I'd say so. I like Winter as a center attacking midfielder who plays a lot like Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez. He chases down balls and applies pressure to try and win possession. His distribution of the ball isn't as great as other options in midfield, but, in terms of covering the ground and being where the ball is during matches, he's having an intangible effect on how that attack builds that may not show up in the stat sheets, but is certainly felt on the pitch.
Meg: Absolutely, Adrian Winter has proven to be a work horse, a player willing to do whatever and play wherever. Regardless of who is healthy, Winter should receive a starting role. He brings talent and cohesiveness to Orlando, and is an all-around play maker.
What's going on with Rafael Ramos this year and how close do you think Heath is to giving Kevin Alston a game?
Brad: I'm not trusting Ramos with watering my cactus, let alone entrusting him to defend on the right side in a 4-3-3. However, Alston may not feature anytime soon if Heath's willingness to hold on to players and not make changes too quickly continues, like we saw on Friday. Assuming he does, however, I wouldn't expect him to crack the starting XI and how the back line performs against New England will certainly factor into Heath's selections moving forward.
Meg: Rafael Ramos has lost his edge. He looks weak and unwilling to put in the work in order to improve. Ramos needs to seriously improve if he hopes to live up to his contract. If Heath is going to give Alston playing time, this week is as good as any. With Orlando playing his former team, it would be interesting to see how he played against his old teammates and help Heath gauge where he fits best in the roster.
Austin: I've had this conversation with so many people over the last week and I've heard different perspectives on Rafael Ramos' play so far this year. The consensus is, that he's making too many mental mistakes when trying to defend. Whether it be missed clearances, poor man marking, or just general bad play, Ramos almost seems to have regressed a bit since last year. It's possible that while trying to cut down his temper, it also took out a bit of bite and aggressiveness from his game as a whole. Maybe letting him go out and be aggressive is what he needs to play well, which obviously would create the same problems it did last year. At this point, however, it may be worth giving a try. Now, whether Alston will be given a game, I could definitely see it happening, especially if Ramos' form continues as it is. The only question now is, how short of a leash does Ramos have before it's yanked?
Much like last weekend's opponent, Orlando City has yet to get a win over Sunday's foe, the New England Revolution. What are the keys to changing that fact and what is your score prediction for Sunday?
Meg: The key factors will be the team being fit, starters returning, and, as always, cohesion. This season Orlando has the talent and ability to beat New England. However, this means all players need to be healthy and able to play. The score line will likely be low due to strong defense, something like 1-0 Orlando.
Austin: Orlando really doesn't match up too well against the Revolution in theory, but depending on the lineup, the Lions could make a game of it. New England has great facilitators in the final third and can pick out passes better than most teams. If the back line for Orlando has Tommy Redding back, then they'll have a good chance of containing the balls in the final third. If Aurelien Collin comes in to play and plays his usual aggressive style of defending, then Orlando's defense will be picked apart by pinpoint passes in the box, much like we saw last year up in New England. If Orlando can get Redding, Higuita and Larin back, then I could potentially see a 2-1 win for Orlando. If not, then most likely a 3-0 defeat.
Brad: *looks around to see where Jermaine Jones is* *is with Colorado Rapids* Hmm all right, yeah, this should go a lot smoother. What's that? He didn't really contribute to the Revs either time they played? Hmm...that certainly changes things. New England has been somewhat sleepy to start out the season and has a -2 goal differential (Orlando City has a +4). If the first few games have shown us anything, it's that Orlando City has a hard time retaining possession through the midfield. This has to change in order for Orlando City to pick up its first win over New England.
Bonus question: The expansion Orlando Pride will be in Portland to play the Thorns in their first ever NWSL match. Are the Thorns on the road too tough an opponent for Tom Sermanni's side to get a result and how do you see this inaugural match playing out?
Austin: Sermanni and his squad have had a good preseason and the team has been jelling well both on and off the pitch. Going up against a Portland team that has mostly been together over the last year could prove to be a challenge and there will be some feeling out stages early in the game, but if everyone from the Pride is healthy and ready to go, I'd say a 2-1 victory for Orlando.
Brad: It's certainly an interesting match-up, to say the least. Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath, and former Orlando Pride defender (editor's note: for a few seconds, anyway) Meghan Klingenberg all feature for the Thorns, along with new arrival and genuinely terrifying goal scorer, Lindsey Horan. Portland has the benefit of having played together for extended periods of time, so there isn't that general "feeling out" process that teams undergo when they first start out. Luckily for Orlando, they've already produced two excellent results against Florida State and UF -- two college programs that churn out a lot of talent and frequently go deep into the NCAA tournament. I think this is the perfect match for the Pride to assess where they're at talent-wise and work some things out tactically against a quality opponent. It'll be a barn burner of a slobberknocker in Providence Park. 3-2 Pride.
Meg: The Thorns on the road are not too tough of an opponent for the Pride, but their fans might be. Thorns fans are notorious for being the largest supporter group, drawing large crowds, and being intimidating to visiting teams. Any time the Thorns are at home, the odds are on their side. However, if their preseason is any inclination of how the rest of the season will go, Orlando has a real shot at defeating the beast at home. 2-1 Orlando Pride.
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That's your roundtable discussion for Week 6 as Orlando City prepares to quell the Revolution and the Pride head to Portland. For the record, I'm not nearly as optimistic as our roundtable this week about the Pride going up against one of the NWSL's favorites on the road and getting a win this early. But they still have to play the game, so you never know.
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.