Orlando City's winless skid now stands at five games (2-0-3) after another draw last weekend against the New York Red Bulls. Things don't get any easier, with the Lions headed on the road to play a desperate Sporting Kansas City team in a hostile environment - without Head Coach Adrian Heath. Meanwhile, the Pride defeated NWSL power Seattle Reign FC 2-0 on Mother's Day to even their record at 2-2. They'll host Western New York Flash on Saturday before playing the next four on the road.
The Lions beat SKC last season at home, but this time they'll be leaving Dom Dwyer's spiritual home to visit his actual one. Sporting has a formidable lineup that includes Dwyer, Brad Davis, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi. Here to talk about Orlando's previous game and next one, and to weigh in on the Pride, are Sean Rollins and Andrew Harrison. And I'm calling my own number this week, so my answers are below as well (please be gentle with me).
Orlando City played well against New York Red Bulls for long stretches, particularly in the second half, but couldn't find a second goal. What are your thoughts on the result and the game overall?
Sean: While the team did dominate parts of the game, it had trouble once again in the final third. I think the result was disappointing due to how well the team played for stretches of the game. At the end of the game it doesn't matter how you play if you're not getting results and the team is not getting the results right now.
Andrew: The game was really a tale of two clubs. In the first half and some of the second, we were sluggish and moved with very little purpose, almost inviting the high-press style that (Head Coach) Jesse Marsch likes to play and inviting the Red Bulls to have a go. However, that second half 30-minute display gave me some hope for the future of this team, but it does concern me that we believe this to be the strongest lineup for our franchise at the moment and yet it looked like we were always just playing for that draw rather than trying to grab all three points at home.
Michael: The Red Bulls definitely got on the front foot early with their high pressure and Seb Hines got lost on the first goal, although there were others who equally at fault with their positioning. After Orlando City settled into the match, I thought they were the better team and definitely looked the likelier team to score as the game neared its conclusion. It's a pity that Cristian Higuita took that red card because Heath was about to bring on some fresh troops for the final push to get three points. I thought it was a good response to the poor performance at Red Bull Arena and I thought Darwin Ceren was particularly good. Antonio Nocerino played his best game so far combining down the left with Brek Shea to protect against Lloyd Sam -- a player who provided lots of danger in the first meeting.
It wasn't a perfect game for Antonio Nocerino, but it may have been his best outing with Orlando so far, as he did a lot of little, hidden things well, like helping Brek Shea deal with Lloyd Sam. Is the Italian starting to finally find his footing in MLS?
Andrew: I don't think so. Rather, I think we have seen enough abject performances from him lately that any improvement is worth celebrating. He has eventually started to learn his role on the left side, however, since he was asked to play a similar role back earlier in his career at Palermo in Serie A. It is troubling that we are just starting to see a glimmer of hope. However, Shea also played his part, but since Shea had to assist Nocerino in keeping Sam out of the game, Orlando was basically a non-threat on the left flank and our performance suffered overall.
Michael: Antonio Nocerino isn't there yet but I think he did play his best game so far combining down the left with Brek Shea to protect against Lloyd Sam -- a player who provided lots of danger in the first meeting - and helped cut off supply from Sacha Kljestan/Felipe to the right wing. Nocerino, like a lot of other foreign players before him, is going through his adjustment period, which can last anywhere from a few games up to a full season. This is not a new thing in MLS and unfortunately, only getting games will help him through this period. It's easy to forget that he hadn't played any competitive soccer since August and missed Orlando City's training camp. He was able to train, but that's not the same.
Sean: I think it's less of Nocerino finding his footing in MLS and more of finding his place in the team. I think Nocerino is a skilled player that can do a lot to help this team. While I don't think he'll have the impact of a player like Kaká, I think a big impact he'll have is on speed of play. Really the only two players currently on the team that play with a high pace that cause trouble are Kaká, Kevin Molino, and sometimes Brek Shea. I think Nocerino has the ability to play at the pace of Kaká and Molino, which can cause problems for the opposition.
Cristian Higuita will serve his red card suspension on Sunday. Do we see Adrian Heath change shape or is does he straight swap Servando Carrasco in for the young Colombian?
Michael: Well, the first thing we'll see is no Adrian Heath (thanks, DisCo). My assumption is that Mark Watson will be instructed to keep the same lineup but slot Servando Carrasco into the middle of the central defense. Carrasco has played well this season when called upon. I just hope he doesn't get hit in the crest with the ball when he's in his own penalty area.
Sean: Despite the fact that a lot of people hate on Carrasco, he is good at his role. He's not at the level of Darwin Ceren or Cristian Higuita, but he's a solid backup. If Heath does change shape, I don't think it will be because Higuita is out. I think it'll be putting a second striker up with Larin due to the team's troubles finishing chances.
Andrew: The one thing we know about Heath is that he doesn't change anything unless he has to. Therefore, I can't see him changing shape and will just go with the straight swap since he will want to keep the team in his preferred formation and with a capable replacement in Servando Carrasco who is match fit and capable of playing the full 90, it is the obvious choice.
Next up is Sporting Kansas City. Although SKC has struggled in recent weeks, this is a formidable opponent in a difficult stadium. What is the key match-up for OSCS at Sporting?
Sean: Benny Feilhaber is Sporting KC's most dangerous player, likely deserving a call-up by Jurgen Klinsmann. While many will be focused on striker Dom Dwyer, the job for Darwin Ceren will be to keep Feilhaber from punishing the Lions. One of the best attacking midfielders against one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. For me, that will be the match-up to watch.
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Andrew: My key match-up is how a struggling Orlando City defense will handle the front line of Dom Dwyer and MLS veteran Brad Davis. Both players have been struggling in recent weeks to get on the score sheet, however, if the Orlando defense lets them get one (which is very possible) then that rust will disappear quickly. However, if they are able to keep them quiet until after halftime in their home stadium, then I believe we stand a fighting chance of leaving Children's Mercy Park with three points.
Michael: For me it's Orlando City's attacking players against the back line of SKC and goalkeeper Tim Melia. Matt Besler didn't play midweek at Colorado so he'll be fresh, but the team will be without Ike Opara, who got two yellow cards against the Rapids. So, will Nuno Coelho and Besler be that center back pairing? Cyle Larin needs to get back on the score sheet after finding the net only once in his last six games, so the Canadian's battle with that back line and Melia is key. Kaká, who hasn't scored in open play in a while, and Kevin Molino, who has been on fire, will need to help Larin.
How do you see Sunday's game playing out and what is your final score prediction?
Andrew: Before SKC's game on Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids, I would have said this would have been a difficult game for Orlando. However, SKC's struggles continued on Wednesday, losing 1-0 and having defender Ike Opara sent off and, with that in mind, Head Coach Peter Vermes will not be able to utilize his typical squad rotation plans on a short game week. When you couple this with an Orlando City side that has something to prove, I think Orlando City takes the game to Kansas City and runs out 2-1 winners.
Michael: The Lions have to contend with a difficult road environment and a desperate team. The last time that happened, they got dominated at Red Bull Arena and only a heroic effort from Joe Bendik kept them from being embarrassed. Sporting Kansas City is about as talented as New York and I think they'll come out with everything they've got, forcing the Lions to weather an early storm. Orlando City has done better against Western Conference teams for some reason and hopefully they can withstand that early energy by SKC. I am calling this a 1-1 draw with Orlando finally scoring a goal from outside the penalty area.
Sean: Sporting KC is a dangerous team and playing at Children's Mercy Park is difficult. Getting a draw would be successful result for the Lions but I think they'll fall 3-1.
Tom Sermanni's Pride put together its best 90-minute performance of the season on Mother's Day against Seattle Reign FC. What was the most impressive aspect of the win?
Michael: It has to be the defensive performance. The back four played brilliantly, giving Ashlyn Harris a pretty quiet afternoon for a change (although she still managed a Save of the Week candidate after an unfortunate heavy touch by Laura Alleway). But it was more than the back line. The midfield did well to keep Kim Little from being herself and that was the result of a good team effort. The insertion of first-round pick Sam Witteman into the midfield worked well, as she was pesky all day, winning balls along the sidelines. It was a great team win.
Sean: I think the most important part of the win was how well the back line played. For the first time this season, Ashlyn Harris wasn't asked to make some terrific saves to preserve the three points. I think it was only a matter of time until you started seeing the back four getting used to playing with each other and I think Sunday was a turning point for them.
Andrew: The biggest takeaway from this win was the fact that the team was basically able to keep the front line of the Reign quiet. The Pride defense that has looked shaky in recent weeks was able to keep a clean sheet against the well-orchestrated midfield of Kim Little and company and they were able to see off any moments of danger against Seattle's three up top. Both of those things are excellent aspects for the Pride to continue building upon.
How can the Pride keep their mojo going Saturday when the Western New York Flash come to town?
Sean: I think the Pride are in good shape and right now it's just about the players getting used to each other. They've looked quite good in all four games so far and I think the more they play together, the better they'll get.
Andrew: They just have to keep doing what they have been doing. Both losses for the Pride have been down to momentary defensive breakdowns, so if they can stamp those out, this is a team that can continue to win week in and week out. The Western New York Flash are currently tied with the Pride on points but have a negative goal differential, so if the Pride can get up early they should be able to bring home the victory on Saturday night.
Michael: The simple answer here is to continue to build chemistry. But I think it's important for the Pride's mojo to get Alex Morgan a goal. She's the captain and the face of the franchise, and although she's contributed even when she's not scoring -- with that pretty assist on Sarah Hagen's goal, for example -- she truly strikes fear into the other team when she's finding the net. We've seen that on both the club and international level. If Morgan can hit the target on Saturday, she can not only deflate the Flash, but also lift her teammates' confidence.
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And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 10 as Orlando City prepares for a date with SKC and the Pride get set to host Western New York Flash in a key early-season NWSL battle.
Feel free to add your answers to the questions above or explain why our staff is right/wrong in their predictions or analysis in the comments section below.