Orlando City looks to snap its four-game winless skid Friday night in a revenge match against the New York Red Bulls at Camping World Stadium. These teams just met two weeks ago in New Jersey, with the Red Bulls getting the better of the Lions, 3-2. Orlando must look to get something out of this match and stay in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
The Lions are coming off a 2-2 draw at New England, earning a point with a dramatic finish. In this week's roundtable discussion, we'll take a final look back at the draw against the Revs, peak ahead to Friday's showdown with NYRB, and give some time to the Pride as well. Taking their seats at the big purple table this week are Rich Shock, David Rohe, and Austin Siegel.
Last year, the Lions seemed to play better on the road than at home in the early stages of the season. In 2016, the team looks like a bag of nerves away from home, even when it grinds out points. What is the difference on the road this year and is this going to get fixed?
Rich: The biggest difference this year is that the Lions are missing a player to step on the ball in the midfield to slow the game down and provide confidence and poise to the rest of the squad. Nocerino hasn't yet lived up to his billing, and Higuita, Ceren, and Carrasco aren't possession-keeping midfielders. While this is no longer Kaká's game, and Molino hasn't looked comfortable in this role, Orlando City needs to figure out some way to generate possession in the midfield or change its tactics in order to hide or work around this weakness. The Lions also haven't seemed terribly confident at home, but it's hard to be confident when the other team always has the ball.
David: The difference is Kaká. In three of the four away matches, Kaká was not on the field. The one away game he was in, Larin, Shea and Higuita were all out. It may just be an injury/depth problem. Orlando City addressed some depth issues from last year, but some of those new players are still adjusting to the team. Having players available to allow for lineup adjustments will help. Additionally, I'm not sure that it's a difference in play away rather than how we're playing at home. Last year we were 2-4-2 through eight games (0-3-1 at home, and 2-1-1 away). This year, we're 2-2-4 through eight games (1-0-3 at home and 1-2-1 away). Orlando City is playing better at home this year and that has made a difference in the standings thus far.
Austin: I think Orlando's struggles away from home actually have more to do with the team's health than nerves. In their four road games this season, the Lions have never had both Kaká and Cyle Larin available for selection and it's shown in their offensive production. While Larin's hamstring injury appears to be in the past, Kaká is at a point in his career where missing games here and there looks like it's going to be the norm.
Orlando City is winless in four matches now, despite earning points in three of those four. It's still fairly early in the season, but is Friday a must-win at home for the Lions? Why or why not?
David: There's a one-point difference between fourth and eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. Orlando City needs the win to maintain position, or the Lions could very quickly find themselves down three to four spots in the standings. Could they overcome such a drop? Of course, but let's not make the season any harder than it needs to be. The real reason the Lions need the win is simply mental. With no win in four matches, getting three points would be a great way to start May in a positive state of mind. Additionally, Orlando City plays the Red Bulls three times, and we're already down one game. We need this one to be able to have a positive record against the Red Bulls this season.
Austin: It's hard to believe in must-win games after watching Orlando drop countless matches that appeared to doom their postseason chances in 2015, before almost sneaking in at the end. So no, this Friday's match is not a must-win game. But at this point in the season, the Lions' only goal should be staying in playoff position and that's only going to happen with three points on Friday.
Rich: Friday is not a must-win game for the Lions, mostly because the Eastern Conference is tightly packed and it doesn't seem like anyone is a dominant force. Orlando, without playing very well thus far, is in a pretty good position at this point in the season and will set itself up well if it can continue to grab points at the end of games. That sort of resiliency and grit will put the Lions a step ahead of their opponents if and when they make the playoffs.
I won't ask about his confidence level, because that always seemed high, but now that Carlos Rivas has found the back of the net in MLS play, will he see more of the field? Has your opinion of him changed? If so, how?
Austin: I've always seen Rivas as a guy who can provide valuable depth and production off the bench, but his play on Saturday showed just why Orlando City was so high on the 22-year-old when they plucked him from Deportivo Cali in 2014. That being said, Rivas finds himself in a crowded attacking midfield and will have to continue his offensive production if he hopes to carve out an expanded role.
Rich: Carlos Rivas has played well, but he probably won't see more of the field. Rivas isn't better than a healthy Kaká or Molino and will most likely settle into his role as a "super-sub" who comes on late in games to stretch the opponent's defense. Teams in close games will not be excited to see Rivas/Winter/Baptista checking in. The perception of Rivas hasn't changed -- and shouldn't change -- just because of last week's game; simply put, he is finally turning into the player we thought he'd be.
David: Carlos Rivas will see more of the field, but I don't think he'll start this week. Rivas alternates between showing us why he has the Young Designated Player tag, and at other times just making you just shake your head. I do think he is growing and learning, though perhaps not as quickly as Orlando City fans had hoped. In the one match he started, he had two shots, committed two fouls, and suffered three fouls. His goal against New England was preceded by a yellow card a mere four minutes earlier. He's fast, he can score, and he's got a good cross from the left, but he's still doesn't know when to use that aggressiveness. He already has two yellow cards in only 127 minutes of play. Let's hope his development can match his pace up the field.
Looking ahead to Friday night, the Red Bulls completely swamped Orlando City's midfield two weeks ago and made the Timbers look awful this past weekend. How do the Lions cope with a suddenly confident NYRB squad?
Rich: To counter NYRB's newfound confidence, the Lions should press high up the field. Take the game out of the midfield, pressure New York's back line and force it to make a mistake. If Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos can get into the attacking third and get dangerous balls into the midfield (yes, a tall task -- especially for Ramos), the Lions can change the shape of the game and take some punch out of a potent midfield. The downside, of course, is that sort of tactic backfires if and when Shea/Ramos and the rest of the gang can't get anything going from those areas all while leaving the midfield exposed. If the Lions do head into a formation and tactic that favors the wide areas, they have to do so with confidence, swagger, and the belief that this is their game and their strength.
David: NYRB are playing well, but our last game against them wasn't without controversy. Our midfield play was poor, but Adrian Heath said he expects Kaká to be available for Friday's match, and that will make a difference. Cyle Larin should be back to full strength, and he has consistently been a challenge for the Red Bulls.
Austin: Kaká's return should help, but New York is firing on all cylinders and it's going to take a complete team effort for the Lions to get a win on Friday. Also, there's at least a 50/50 shot that Aurélien Collin scores four goals against his former club. In all seriousness, I think Orlando is a better defensive team than they showed in their first meeting against NYRB and any improvement is going to start from there.
What are your match predictions? What's the key match-up and what's your predicted final score?
David: On offense it will start in the midfield and will then depend on how well we get the ball in to Larin. If we're able to go wide (perhaps with Rivas on the left), Larin could have another big day. On defense, I expect Bendik to continue his solid play in goal, though some help from the back line would be nice. Orlando City hasn't lost at home so far this season, and I expect that to continue, though three points might be too much to ask for. This one ends in a 2-2 draw...again.
Austin: I'll save this for my Match Preview on Friday. [Editor's note: this is what we call a "tease."]
Rich: 2-0 NYRB. Goals from Klejstan and Grella. The Lions need a big game out of Higuita and Cerén, but don't get it. Bendik stands on his head again but mistakes in the back of the team cost the Lions in the long run. Also, the late game magic has to take a week off at some point.
After a close road loss to Portland and a big win over Houston, the team kind of took a step back with a 1-0 shutout loss at the Chicago. Were you surprised that without Julie Johnston the Red Stars were able to hold Alex Morgan at bay?
Austin: It's tough to judge the Pride so early in their inaugural season, but I don't think the loss to Chicago was all that surprising. First of all, the weather here in the Midwest takes no prisoners, but I can see why the Orlando had trouble with the Red Stars. After their first game in team history and first home game in team history, this was always going to be an easy match to look past. Even without Julie Johnston, Chicago is still a playoff team led by USMNT members Christen Press, Alyssa Naeher and reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year Danielle Colaprico. In FiveThirtyEight's NWSL season preview, the Red Stars were picked to finish third and compete for a playoff spot, while the Pride landed all the way in ninth. Tough loss on the road, but I think Orlando will bounce back.
Rich: The first thing any team playing against the Pride will write on its white board is: "Shut down Alex Morgan." It's not very surprising that an expansion team with players who have had less than two months together is struggling -- for stretches -- to get anything going offensively. It's also not very surprising that teams are daring other Pride players to beat them. Until the rest of the team shows how dangerous they can be, teams won't change their tactics.
David: I am surprised that Alex Morgan wasn't able to make something happen for the Pride, but occasionally that's just how it goes. Sometimes a player gets an opportunity to show what they are capable of, and Katie Naughton was that player for Chicago. And it wasn't just Naughton, as the entire Red Stars defense seemed to be ready and dedicated to denying Morgan this game.
What must the Pride do differently to get a result against the Seattle Reign on Sunday?
Rich: The Pride need to generate offense from somewhere else. Beating a team that has Hope Solo as its goalie is tough enough as is and the Pride won't be able to rely on quick restarts to get their goals. They will have to generate offense through movement off the ball, runs through the open spaces in the defense, and a possession-based game that lulls the Reign to sleep before finding that ball that puts someone in on goal.
David: I expect Alex Morgan will get back to form and get another goal. That alone will help, though the defense needs to step up a bit. Ashlyn Harris will continue her excellent performance in goal, but she shouldn't have to make so many outstanding plays. Rumor is Trump has asked Bendik and Harris about walls. The Pride are in their first year, so there will be growing pains. Sermanni will have to try out lineups, and the players will have to get to know each other. We saw it last year with the Lions, and the Pride are no different. Seattle is a premiere team in NWSL, but if the Pride can put the pieces together, there's no reason they can't come away with some points.
Austin: While Orlando dominated possession against Chicago, the Pride were stymied by an impressive performance from Naeher. Things won't get any easier against Hope Solo and the Seattle Reign, but they are some reasons for optimism. Jasmyne Spencer continued her hot start against the Red Stars and Sara Hagan looked impressive in her first start of the season. This weekend's match should be a great measuring stick for this team.
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And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 9 as Orlando City prepares for a date with the Red Bulls and the Pride get set to host a very good Seattle Reign squad.
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.