The Lions return to action Saturday night, looking to end our long national nightmare (also known as a 0-3-3 skid). All Orlando City has to do to break the streak is to beat the Montreal Impact, a team that has been at the top of the Eastern Conference standings pretty much since the start of the 2016 MLS season.
Taking their seat at the big, purple table this week are Gavin Ewbank, Luis Hernandez, and Lindsay Harrison. They'll weigh in on Orlando City's 3-2 loss at Sporting Kansas City, the upcoming home tilt against the Montreal Impact, and the Orlando Pride's win Saturday ahead of this week's match at Houston.
OK, let's start with the obvious. Those 34 shots Sporting Kansas City took sure seemed like a lot. Defending is a team effort. How did SKC get so many looks? Where should the fingers be pointing after that debacle on Sunday?
Gavin: I think it was just one of those games where you find a team in Sporting KC that was struggling to score goals lately, looking to get themselves on the board at home against a team like Orlando -- that's struggled in the back this season, and was likely going to be playing on their back foot throughout the match. Which it looked like they were. When you look at the chart, most of their shots came within the 18-yard box, which shows a big defensive breakdown in the final third, and the blame can go to a handful of players there, especially the back line, which was already sitting back for the majority of the match.
Luis: I don't think it's fair to point out any one player in the match against Sporting. I just think it was a matter of heart. They wanted the three points more than Orlando did. Adrian Heath, who's a very passionate leader, wasn't on the sideline to motivate the side, and it became a perfect storm. For whatever reason, on that day against that team, Orlando City didn't display the heart of a lion or spirit they did like against teams like Real Salt Lake or Portland.
Lindsay: SKC got so many looks because, for whatever reason, Orlando City this season has decided that they just want to let teams come at them and hope that they can soak up the pressure. Unfortunately, however, the dam eventually breaks and we are left looking at stat sheet where the only column where we won was in saves. This type of performance comes from the tactics set out by the coaching staff so I would certainly point fingers at the coaches, as this isn't one person playing badly, it's the whole team. The system, and set-up, is at the root of our current problems.
Orlando City has played on the road five times, with a 1-3-1 record and looked bad against teams that had been struggling, in New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City. Aside from the normalcy of the road being tougher, what are the Lions doing away from Orlando that is creating so many opportunities for their opponents?
Luis: I've said it before and I'll say it again: Orlando City plays to the level of its opponent. The Lions can get themselves worked up against Portland because they are the defending champs or against NYCFC as a natural rival, but I haven't seen the team display any killer instinct consistently. We haven't been able to step on the throat of a team when we score first. The players just relax too much afterwards instead of staying focused. They feed off the energy from the crowd at home; you can see more urgency then.
Lindsay: I don't think they are really doing anything different on the road than at home. The biggest difference is they don't have the crowd to act as the 12th man when away, but even when we are home we seem to be playing for the draw anyway. They are going away from home and starting with the mentality that if we get one point, we've got three since we are away from home. That is a toxic mentality, especially once they score. It's always an uphill battle to stop a home team from scoring once they are on the scoreboard, especially when you have already soaked up so much pressure.
Gavin: Like I said above, defense has already been a problem for the club all season, and the one main thing I've noticed in most of the road games this year is that they prefer to sit back and stay cautious rather than constantly try to push forward like we see them do at home. And when a team with problems in the back does that, you tend to see those flaws come to light far more often and that's what we saw happen in Kansas City, and even against the Red Bulls in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago.
Darwin Ceren and Brek Shea both left the match early with injuries and will be out against Montreal (and beyond). How would you address these absences in the lineup, if Shea can't play?
What Lineup Changes Could We See for Orlando City Against Montreal Impact?
Coming off one of their worst performances of the year, the Lions must change things up in their lineup to get back on track.
Lindsay: The simplest solution if they are unavailable to play will be switch outs. Luckily, in the case of Darwin Ceren, we have a natural switch in Servando Carrasco to partner alongside the returning Cristian Higuita in the defensive midfield. If Shea is not able to go, then I expect a few changes might take place. We will either see a like-for-like trade with Luke Boden replacing him, or if Heath really wants to switch it up, as hinted at earlier this week, then Kevin Alston is also an option and may give him some of the pace that is typically associated with Shea's game. In either case, the safest bet is to keep Antonio Nocerino on the bench and away from the ball entirely.
Gavin: We'll probably see Carrasco play in Ceren's place with Higuita back in the lineup. I'd like to see Adrian Heath revert back to his 4-2-3-1 this weekend with Nocerino on the bench -- or if he has to, play him in the defensive midfield role with Higuita, because that would let him roam forward more while Higuita stays back like he normally does, especially because Carrasco tends to stay back, too -- with the normal set of attackers in the front three. Carlos Rivas or Adrian Winter on the left wing would be a good balance to Luke Boden's slower pace at left back.
Luis: I believe Brek Shea's injury isn't going to be significant, and I expect he'll be able to play. I would look back to the match against the Chicago Fire, which Ceren missed due to red card suspension. According to MLSSoccer.com, the Lions were in a 4-3-3 without Kaká. I'd have Winter in the starting XI and take out Nocerino. In the defensive midfield, use Higuita and Carrasco holding it down and have Kaká on the left side in front of Brek.
Since Didier Drogba's arrival in Montreal, the Impact look like a completely different team. Part of the reason for that is the play of Ignacio Piatti, who is a league MVP candidate. How can the Lions stop him or slow him down on Saturday?
Gavin: It's definitely going to be on Higuita and the two center backs to slow down Piatti in the midfield. If Tommy Redding starts, we saw him against New York City FC earlier this season completely shut down David Villa, and he's been good at doing that to other key players in other games, too. Higuita has to do a good job of keeping Piatti in check, but without getting too physical to the point of an early card that could limit him for the rest of the game, like he does far too often.
Luis: Honestly, Piatti worries me. The Impact already demonstrated this season they can win without Drogba. We're going to need some strong midfield play to contain Piatti by limiting the number of shots he takes or force him to taking poor or harder shots. Hopefully, the Lions can limit the amount of space around him because he's a player who will make you pay for giving him room to work. The amount of fouls should be interesting with PRO assigning Mark Geiger for the match.
Lindsay: I think the only way that they will be able to stop Piatti is if they employ a similar approach to that of dealing with Diego Valeri. They need to pack the midfield and make sure that there are no lapses in defensive duties when he is on the ball. Piatti is a playmaker who can make a goal out of nothing, therefore we need to interrupt his stride and get in his face to help slow down a very potent Montreal engine room. However, Higuita will have to be careful with his challenges, especially after his recent red card, which will put him under extra scrutiny from the referee.
Finish this sentence: In order to get a win over Montreal, Orlando City must ______________? Also, what is your predicted final score and who are the goal scorers?
Luis: Dominate possession and finish in the final third. The three times Montreal has lost this season, the Impact have failed to score. Orlando City is due a clean sheet and I think they are going to be motivated to perform well. I'm going to say the Lions win 3-0, with goals from Larin, Molino, and Winter.
Lindsay: Change their game plan. Orlando has to do something other than soak up pressure. The Lions need to take it to Montreal in front of their home fans and need to play some winger/wide flank soccer to help avoid the strong midfield of Montreal. However, with that in mind, I am still predicting a 2-1 win to the Montreal Impact. They are the current league leaders and I just don't see Orlando being able to get back on track after such a bad performance last week.
Gavin: To beat Montreal, Orlando City has to score more goals than the other team, obviously. But seriously, Orlando has scored in every one of its games this season, but that doesn't mean they've been blowing teams out of the water, either -- Portland being the exception, of course. We've addressed the back line issues, and against a team like Montreal the back will be key, and they're going to need to score to win. I'll say they do, winning 3-1.
The Pride were outplayed for much of Saturday's match against Western New York Flash but still managed to get the win. Why did Orlando have so much trouble at home against the Flash?
Lindsay: The Pride had trouble against the Flash because they seemed unable to get their midfield started. Kaylyn Kyle did not have the best game, looking lost and distracted at times, and Sam Witteman struggled to get away from her marker in the pack. That said, once they changed formations and moved some talent around, they were able to get the breakthrough they needed and it was nice to be able to steal some points at home, which has been sorely lacking on the men's side.
Gavin: Well, it's still early and the team is still trying to piece things together. I think one of the main problems was the lack of service to Alex Morgan in the first half, and even early in the second half. She was almost a non-factor for the first 65 minutes, and when she's involved they are a much better team, obviously. The back line also needed to tighten up some more; they were a liability at times.
Luis: The strength of the Flash was in the midfield, which is an area the Pride have room for improvement. I wasn't surprised the Flash did so well until Tom Sermanni made his substitutions and changed the formation to a 3-5-2, and that made all the difference. The Pride needed the extra bodies in the midfield to muck it up and clog things up for the Flash. I think it's a mark of a good team to find a way to win even when they didn't play their best. The team just kept grinding away until opportunity presented itself for Edmonds to hit Morgan in stride.
Orlando is 0-2 on the road this season. Will the Pride grab their first points away from Orlando Friday night? What's the key to a Pride victory?
Gavin: It's going to be a tough one. The Pride beat the Dash already this season, so at least they have that going for them heading into the weekend. In their last road loss, the Pride didn't start Jasmyne Spencer, so don't do that. Spencer has been a lightning bolt on the field for this club and a spark in the lineup. She's given teams fits every time out and was a thorn in the side of the Dash the last time these two teams met, and she'll need to be again this time around.
Luis: Yes, I think the Pride can take its first road point against the Dash, but it won't be easy. Houston is one of the most offensive-minded teams in the league. They are going to shoot early and often. Rachel Daly has taken as many shots as Alex Morgan this season, and Andressa demonstrated what she could do when the Dash played in Orlando. The key to the Pride victory is going to rest on the back lines for both teams. Our defense needs to play solid and frustrate Houston while Orlando pressures the back four into turnovers and mistakes.
Lindsay: I think the Pride have a good chance of getting a point on the road, but probably will not pick up the win. The Houston Dash are still without FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, but will be looking to rebound after losing to the undefeated Washington Spirit this past weekend, and so I expect it will be another tight game. If the Pride have any chance of bagging all three points, then we will need to reduce our defensive mishaps that are so prevalent in the partnership of Laura Alleway and Monica and they will need to use Lianne Sanderson effectively when she makes her appearance.
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And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 11 as Orlando City prepares for a date with the Montreal Impact and the Pride heads to Houston for a clash with the Dash.
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.