The real question for this Sunday's showdown between Orlando City and New York City FC in the Bronx is who exactly is going to be in the lineup for the visitors. With David Mateos and Cristian Higuita suspended, Kaká on his way to fill in for Douglas Costa on Brazil's Copa America squad, and a few lingering injuries (Seb Hines, Darwin Ceren), we could see an unusual lineup, a change in formation, or both.
The Lions will try to make it three straight games without a loss but any kind of result has to be looked upon in wonder. After all, Orlando City will be playing its third game in nine days. The lineup will be patchwork and filled with tired legs, and the opponents are 1) at home, 2) on a week's rest, and 3) furious with last week's 7-0 home loss to the Red Bulls. They've had to sit with that 7-0 defeat eating their souls for a solid week. It's safe to say there will be plenty of effort given by the hosts tomorrow at Yankee Stadium.
Here again to give us the New York City FC story is Jake Gofman from SB Nation's NYC blog, Hudson River Blue. If you'd like to see how I answered their queries, you can do that here (note: I sent my responses to them prior to Kaká being called up to the Brazilian Copa America squad, so...yeah).
Since Orlando City and NYCFC last met, the Blues have put together sufficient results to climb among the East's leaders while the Lions have won once in the last eight outings. What's behind New York City's surprising early season results?
Jake Gofman: We got a similar question from Once a Metro last week and you can imagine the joy I expressed in answering that question prior to getting drubbed by Red Bulls. I'm going to try to be more even keel answering you here. I think our five-game unbeaten streak going into that Red Bulls game was something I felt was coming based off of our performances in the early part of the season. We had some good showings early on, out-possessing and out-shooting our opposition, but we had a very difficult time converting.
We had a stretch where we went winless over seven matches, drawing four times and losing three, and in that stretch we were never out-possessed or shot. We averaged 59% of the possession in those games and took 48 more shots than our opponents. Of course, there were games where we were behind and therefore had to shoot more and possess the ball more, but I think in general we were the more dangerous team often.
I think what's behind our ascendency is a level of comfort now with the formation, personnel, and coach. There are always going to be growing pains with a new coach, and I think a lot of the tactical moves Vieira made needed to be borne out against real competition. There was a healthy amount of tinkering with our team to find the right combinations of players to make it all work. It hasn't all come together just yet, but I think the talent and tactics are beginning to shine through.
Despite the bright start for NYCFC, last week happened. What on Earth happened last week to allow the New York Red Bulls to romp 7-0 at Yankee Stadium?
JG: Oh boy, I know I'm going to have to answer for this for the next few weeks with every blog, but it doesn't mean it's not going to hurt every time.
RBNY destroyed us last week, and has outplayed us in every game of our "rivalry" so far for two reasons: they are a perfect foil to our strategy, and they are proficient in set pieces -- something we cannot defend whatsoever. There's a more complete version of this on our site.
Our strategy since the start has been to play an aesthetically pleasing brand of build-up soccer. Kreis had us playing it last year, and Vieira has us going all out, with a play-out-of-the-back-at-all-costs style. That requires some of our less skilled players (Saunders, Hernandez, Brillant, etc.) to have the ball at their feet constantly while under pressure. Teams in MLS have responded to our strategy by pressing high, but NYC gets away with it because those teams are not pressing teams. Insert Red Bulls, who employ a full-team, high press style of play against all MLS teams. Because they play this style against all clubs, it helps them really take it to a team like NYCFC, who at times can be stubborn. We lost the ball a lot out of the back on Saturday, and I expect that trend to continue if we don't make a change next time we play.
The other thing that kills us against Red Bulls is our miserable defending on set pieces. We've dropped points in each of the last two seasons because of this deficiency, and this past week we gave up two goals to Dax McCarty, all 5-foot-9 of him. Both of these flaws -- being susceptible to high pressure and being incapable of defending set pieces -- hurt us mightily when we go up against Red Bulls.
Obviously the Frank Lampard saga continued this week. Let's forget the off-field stuff. How do you expect Patrick Vieira to utilize him moving forward and will he play a role this weekend?
JG: That is a good question, because it's been hard to see into Vieira's plan for Frankie this year. He is, for all intents and purposes, healthy and capable of contributing. He came on as a substitute in our loss to Red Bulls, which was probably not the smartest time to introduce him to our fans, who were not so happy at the time. He should be part of the team that is available for Sunday's contest, but I'm pretty sure he does not start, yet.
I think Frank will feature throughout this season in a role similar to what Pirlo is playing, however, I don't expect the two to play together all that much given their defensive deficiencies. We may go back to a formation we were experimenting with that had three at the back, in which case I could see the two on the field together (although I wouldn't like it). I think Vieira hopes Lamps has enough in the tank to contribute to the attack, especially in playing smart balls, controlling the play in the opponent's third, and finishing when he gets the chance. Whether or not any of the Frank Lampard from the EPL exists is still a big question that will be answered as he begins to get more playing time.
Any suspensions/injuries we should know about? What's your expected starting XI and score prediction?
JG: No injuries and suspensions to my knowledge, but one NYC player is gone for Copa America: Ronald Matarrita.
I think we return to the 3-4-3 W-M formation this week: Eirik Johansen; Jason Hernandez, Frederic Brillant, Andoni Iraola; Andrea Pirlo, Federico Bravo, Kwadwo Poku, Thomas McNamara; Steven Mendoza, David Villa, Khiry Shelton.
I see NYC rebounding from their loss to RBNY with a 2-1 victory. Villa and Shelton nab a goal each for NYCFC, while Larin scores one for the bad guys. (Editor's note: So...you're calling a Larin own-goal?)
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Big thanks to Jake from HRB for giving us some insight on Orlando City's fellow 2015 expansion side.