I said this last week but I'll say it again: Orlando City needs a victory. And again it will be difficult. The Lions go into a difficult environment on the road to face a desperate Sporting Kansas City team. Orlando may be winless in five (0-2-3) but SKC is winless in seven (0-5-2). The last time the Lions went into a tough environment on the road to play a struggling team, the Red Bulls loss happened, and this Sporting team has just as dangerous an attacking force as New York.
Orlando City has started and finished games well but has had problems in the middle, particularly before halftime. Is this the week we see the first full 90-minute effort since the 4-1 win over Portland? Let's hope so, because we'll all feel better with three more points in pocket. The Lions did manage a nice win over Sporting KC last year in a 3-1 final at The Artist Formerly Known as the Citrus Bowl.
Here to help us learn more about the 2016 version of SKC is Cody Bradley from SB Nation's Sporting Kansas City site, The Blue Testament. Cody was nice enough to stop by and answer our questions. I also answered his, which you can check out over at their place.
It's been awhile since our two teams have met. Who are Sporting Kansas City's key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how have they affected Peter Vermes' team and approach this year?
Cody Bradley: The big one is of course the loss of Krisztian Nemeth. Nemo wanted more money (the team did offer him more when they didn't have to, just not enough) and things kind of went south between the two sides. Brad Davis and Justin Mapp were brought in for attacking reinforcements and Davis has been playing on the wing opposite Graham Zusi. Justin Mapp has been injured and played a total of 8 minutes thus far. The best addition has been Portuguese defender Nuno André Coelho. He is tied with David Ousted for first in minutes played (they've both gone the full 90 all 12 matches) for all of MLS, and he has been damn good basically every single one of those minutes. Diego Rubio is also a new arrival as a young DP on loan from the Spanish second division. He is Dom's backup at striker and Vermes only has until June 30 to decide if he wants to purchase the player or send him back to Spain.
Brad Davis has two goals, both of which were really impressive. He has been almost as good as anybody on this team (not that it's really saying much), but the offense is undoubtedly missing some bite with the loss of Nemeth. He was incredibly dangerous cutting in and attacking from the wing, while Zusi and Davis are probably more content to send in a cross. This means Dwyer gets all the attention from both CBs, and he has been struggling to get proper service.
When Coelho arrived, it was unsure where he fit into the depth chart. He established himself as a starter over Ike Opara and he's given Vermes three very good defenders. He's also provided him with some versatility. Coelho has a bit of David Luiz in him in. He's very technical and is able play in front of the CBs as a defensive midfielder. He fancies himself to take long-range shots and let me tell you, I've seen some absolutely ridiculous free kicks from him in training. His quality and versatility even led to Vermes switching up his beloved 4-3-3.
The jury is still out on Diego Rubio. You can see that the instincts and talent are there, but he hasn't had much time to get used to the league and settle in. He does have one goal to his name in his 162 minutes for SKC. Rubio is the only other option for striker behind Dwyer and has provided much-needed depth, at the very least.
SKC got off to a good early start to the season but of late has been on a run of poor form, going 0-5-2 in the last seven and 1-6-2 in the last nine. What's up with the team and how are the fans reacting to it? Are they calling out Vermes?
CB: Admittedly, most fans are not handling it well. And that's not to say they should be. This organization promises -- and this fan base expects -- much more from Sporting KC. Two goals in the last five matches is just unacceptable. Call us snobs, but we demand hardware.
That being said, I'm far from panicking. SKC is only nine points off the top of the table. They have given themselves a chance to get a result in almost every match. The defense has been pretty good at limiting chances and they haven't conceded more than two goals in a match. And hell, Sporting is actually getting shots off as well. They just simply are not good ones. Another thing to keep in mind is that the top six teams on the Supporters' Shield table are the teams that have done the damage to KC.
There are, of course, some people who will blame Vermes. But the guy has done everything you could want from a manager in a slump. After a couple poor displays he stepped up intensity in training and had the boys in two teams playing a real feisty 1v1 game. After a couple more bad games he switched up his formation and his tactics (I really can't stress enough how big of a deal it is that Vermes switched up his 4-3-3. He loves that formation like Orlando loves Dom Dwyer. You know, like so much that he actually hurt himself a little bit (: ). Then when it got really bad, he benched his star players who were not performing in favor young guns like Jimmy Medranda.
It's definitely not good right now. But I'm confident they will get this turned around. PV is a great coach and there is simply too much talent for them to continue this trend.
What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from Sporting KC this weekend against what is most likely going to be some variation of a 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3 by Orlando City, and what do you view as the game's key match-up?
CB: When the Galaxy came to town, Vermes really did throw out something different. He went with a veteran-heavy lineup and figured out a way to get his best players on the field. The formation is still a mystery, but all three CBs were playing and Graham Zusi was at right back...or something. The team looked pretty solid, but he immediately went back to the 4-3-3 the last two games. He liked the way they played on Wednesday night so I imagine we see it again.
Because the issue has been in the final third and with finishing, the key match-up simply has to be Dom Dwyer against Orlando's CBs Mateos and Hines. Dwyer set himself a mark of 30 goals to aim for this year. But he's only got four goals right now and hasn't scored in the last six games. In the very likely event that Dwyer is benched and/or rested this game, the key match-up would remain in the same spot on the field. This could be a big chance for Rubio to earn a permanent spot on the team.
What is your anticipated starting XI, key injuries/suspensions, and score prediction for Sunday?
CB: Ike Opara is suspended for a ridiculous second yellow card on Wednesday night. For the most part, everyone else is available.
(4-3-3) Tim Melia; Amadou Dia, Nuno Coelho, Matt Besler, Chance Myers; Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber; Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, Brad Davis.
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Big thanks to Cody from The Blue Testament for stopping by and giving us some insight on SKC.