For Orlando City (2-3-5, 11 points), the 2016 season has reached a turning point.
Winless since the first week of April, the Lions will now play four of their next five matches on home turf at Camping World Stadium, where they have yet to lose this season. Taking care of business at "The Tent" (still work shopping a few nicknames) could be crucial this month, if the Lions hope to jump-start their campaign and remain in contention for an MLS Cup Playoff spot.
First up? A familiar Eastern Conference foe in the Montreal Impact (4-3-4, 16 points), who have had their own struggles after getting off to a hot start this season.
Orlando seemed to be chasing the Impact for much of their inaugural MLS campaign, as the late-season addition of Didier Drogba helped Montreal hold off the Lions down the stretch and secure a playoff spot. The clubs squared off three times in 2015, with the home team winning twice and a wild match at Olympic Stadium ending in a 2-2 draw.
Starting XI and Lineup Predictions
Adrian Heath will make his return to the sidelines this weekend after serving a one-game suspension for
retrieving a ball entering the field of play and threatening the very integrity of the game. Priority number one has to be curing Orlando's defensive woes, after the Lions conceded twice against Kansas City to squander an early lead.
But that's going to be a little tougher after Darwin Cerén was ruled out for 5-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered in the loss to SKC. Losing the reigning Latino Del Año for any length of time certainly isn't going to help Orlando's porous defense, which should be tested by a Montreal attack that's currently fourth in MLS with 18 goals scored.
The good news for City is that Cristian Higuita should be back from a red card suspension, giving Orlando a defensive playmaker to pair with Servando Carrasco. Higuita will see an even larger role with Cerén out, as the AC Milan target will be asked to jump-start the Orlando attack from the defensive midfield.
For Impact de Montréal, the biggest absence this weekend will be Didier Drogba, the legendary Ivorian striker who has become the heart and soul what the club looks to do offensively. Their reliance on the 38-year-old Drogba has actually drawn some criticism, with the Montreal Gazette questioning whether the former Chelsea legend is having a negative effect on the club's ability to score goals:
The reliance on Drogba has undoubtedly affected forward Ignacio Piatti recently, and continues to affect the team’s attacking philosophy. Of course, we’re not in any way suggesting that Drogba is to be omitted, but coach Mauro Biello and his staff must revisit the attacking principles of the team.
Biello will get a chance to showcase his tactical creativity this weekend, as a hip injury will keep Drogba sidelined. That could means MLS vet Dominic Oduro slides in as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, unless the Impact decide to shake things up in order to snap their own five-match winless streak.
Player(s) to Watch:
Boasting one of the most dynamic attacking fronts in MLS, the Impact have more than enough firepower to challenge Orlando even without Drogba.
Ignacio Piatti represents the other half of the club's old guard, as the 31-year-old Argentine joined the Impact in 2014 after stints with Independiente and San Lorenzo, both giants in his native country. A player who appears to have peaked late in his career, "Nacho" has scored 38 goals since turning 27, after finding the back of the net just 31 times during his younger days.
Look for him line up alongside former Chicago Fire star Harry Shipp and Galatasaray loanee Lucas Ontivero to create plenty of problems for Orlando on Saturday.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, Montreal Impact 2
Orlando hasn't provided fans with much reason for optimism lately, but this is a game practically begging for the club to take all three points.
Montreal's best player is out, the Lions are playing at home (where they still haven't lost in 2016) and the Impact will be playing aggressive, having drawn their last four matches. Look for a wide-open game and plenty of goals, as two of the highest-scoring teams in MLS collide on Saturday.
But in the end, look for Orlando City to get a win.