Orlando City has gotten off to a good start in 2016, sitting atop the Eastern Conference table through four games after winning its last two matches. The unfortunate thing, however, is the mounting list of absences the club will have to deal with, as striker Cyle Larin joined Antonio Nocerino on the injured hamstring list on Sunday, while Tommy Redding also went off hurt and Brek Shea has now been suspended for Friday's clash with Philadelphia thanks to a retroactive red card.
While it remains to be seen how Orlando City will deal without its primary goal-scorer up top, there's no question about how the Lions will cope with the one-game suspension dealt to Shea -- Luke Boden will step in at left back, and he will likely play well.
In a 2015 season that saw injuries -- both to Shea himself and to others in the side -- heavily affect Shea's minutes and where those minutes came on the pitch, Boden was a consistently reliable player at the back for Adrian Heath. The English fullback made 21 of his 24 appearances in '15 at left back, and his performances garnered pretty nice reviews from The Mane Land staff come season's end. While the absence of Kaká earlier in the year and the impending absence of Larin both raise more difficult questions for Heath and co., having Boden available largely mitigates the one-game suspension to Brek.
Boden is a like-for-like substitution for Shea at the back, offering solid contributions going forward in attack while maintaining a relatively solid defensive presence as well. While the timing of Shea's suspension is unfortunate, as the Texan had just turned in his first goal as a Lion in Orlando's 4-1 demolition of Portland, the foul he committed was red-card worthy. Luckily for Orlando, Boden handles his business like a true professional, striving to push Shea on a weekly basis in training even if he is Heath's second choice.
"Competition is always a good thing," Boden said. "It stops you from being comfortable. It makes you work harder in training and makes sure that when you go into the games, you know that if you don't perform, someone is going to take your place. You have to go into every game and be ready to perform, and be ready to put the work in."
While the fitness of Júlio Baptista and other factors will play in to what Heath chooses to do without Larin up front, the reliable presence of Boden means that the gaffer won't have to spend time this week worrying about what to do at left back. It is a safe bet that Boden will be ready to play, as evidenced by the quote above, and it's a safe bet that Boden will perform at a level comparable to his American counterpart.
Rest assured, Lions fans. Your boys are in good hands.