Orlando City (3-3-6, 15 points) will conclude a brutal stretch of three games in nine days with a trip to Yankee Stadium on Sunday for a match-up with New York City FC (4-4-5, 17 points). It's already the Lions' second meeting of the season with their expansion siblings (second in the Bronx) and the fifth all-time clash between the clubs. For what it's worth, the Lions hold a 2-1-1 mark in that series, 1-0 this season.
The last time Orlando City faced off against NYCFC came in March, when the good guys managed a 1-0 victory for their first win of the 2016 season. Cyle Larin scored the winner in that one, though New York dominated possession and probably deserved at least a point.
The Lions were shorthanded during their first trip to New York City, without the midfield presence of Kaká, and will be facing a similar dilemma this weekend. Not only will their Brazilian superstar be off on emergency Copa América duty, but the Lions are going to be short two center backs and almost their entire central midfield on Sunday. Let's take a look at who Adrian Heath can turn to against NYCFC.
Starting XI and Lineup Predictions:
Yeah, this isn't going to be pretty. You could argue that Orlando City will be missing seven first-choice players this weekend to a combination of injury, suspension, and international duty. Here's a refresher:
- Rafael Ramos, Darwin Cerén and Seb Hines are hurt, though Hines is close to returning.
- Cristian Higuita and David Mateos are suspended.
- And Kaká was a late call-up to Brazil's Copa América Centenario squad.
In short, Adrian Heath is going to have to get creative with his starting lineup.
But luckily for Inchy, there's some precedent for this. Orlando knocked off NYCFC with a similarly decimated squad in March, and the Lions could turn to a similar group in order to try and replicate that success on Sunday. One move could be slotting Kevin Molino into the central attacking spot normally occupied by Kaká, which provided the Trinidadian with several attacking opportunities the last time Heath tried this out. Conor Donovan, Devron Garcia and Hines all were slated to travel with the team, per our Austin David, so there are some options to fill the spot next to Tommy Redding, whether Hines can go or not.
New York City FC:
Patrick Vieira has been pretty consistent with his lineup card this season, so even after a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, it wouldn't ordinarily mean changes from the former Arsenal great. However, there will be changes due to Copa call-ups for Mix Diskerud and Ronald Matarrita. That could mean Frank Lampard (remember him?) stepping in to provide NYCFC with some enviable depth.
We spoke to our friends at Hudson River Blue, who predicted Vieira may go back to a 3-4-3 formation, something like what's shown above.
Player(s) to Watch:
OK, so everybody knows about David "Call me Soccer" Villa, but what about NYCFC's leading assist man this season? Hidden among the big names on this roster is a player in Khiry Shelton who just might have a future in the USMNT midfield.
The 22-year-old is also the dude Orlando City could have drafted (though I don't think the club is having any buyer's remorse with Cyle Larin), as he went second overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Though his rookie campaign was mostly lost to injury, Shelton has earned a place in Vieira's starting lineup this season, notching four assists in 10 appearances. He may not have a Heineken commercial, but he might be the future of the NYCFC attack.
Prediction: New York City FC 3, Orlando City 1
Not to brag, but I absolutely nailed my prediction on Wednesday. We're talking the outcome, final score and predicting that Kevin Molino would find the back of the net.
That being said, I hope I'm dead wrong about this one.
It's tough to see Orlando doing much with a lineup that has surely never taken the pitch together, playing against a good team that's still fuming about a humiliating defeat last weekend. The best thing Orlando can hope for is that NYCFC are still hungover from that 7-0 to the Red Bulls, but I wouldn't count on it.
Best case scenario might be that someone like Antonio Nocerino has a breakout game that can carry through the Copa América break. Otherwise, it could be a long day at Yankee Stadium.