After splitting the points in their last three matches, Orlando City (3-3-8, 17 points) will finish off a two-game home stand with a crucial matchup against Toronto FC (5-5-4, 20 points).
A win over the Reds would catapult Orlando back into playoff position and jump start a club that's spent much of the season languishing near the middle of the Eastern Conference. Kaká is expected to return to the pitch, which should provide the Lions with a boost against a Toronto side missing Jozy Altidore (injury) and Michael Bradley (international duty).
While Saturday night's matchup will be their first meeting of the season, Orlando shouldn't have any trouble remembering their last encounter with TFC. It wasn't a fun time:
Will Orlando finally be able to crack their Canadian rivals on Saturday night, or will Toronto rack up another commanding victory? Let's take a closer look:
Starting XI and Lineup Predictions:
While Orlando will be without Darwin Cerén on Saturday, as the El Salvadorian midfielder recovers from a high ankle sprain, most of the club's big hitters should be available against Toronto.
Kaká is expected to make his return to the pitch on Saturday, after missing Orlando's last two matches with international duty and an injury picked up while training with the Brazilian national team. His impact should be immediate, operating as the fulcrum of Orlando City's offense within the attacking midfield.
The Lions will have to make do without Seb Hines against Toronto, as the center back will be forced to sit out with a yellow card accumulation suspension. David Mateos should get the start as his replacement, alongside Tommy Redding.
TFC's trip to Orlando is sandwiched between both legs of the Canadian Championship Final (Toronto edged out the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 in the first leg, with the winner earning a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League), so the Reds may be forced to go with a patchwork squad against Orlando. But when your club employs Sebastian Giovinco, you've got a chance to win.
Look for Greg Vanney to surround the Italian with a mix of starters and reserves. A couple regulars who could be left out with tired legs include Benoît Cheyrou, Marco Delgado and Steven Beitashour.
Player(s) to Watch:
It's Giovinco, because the reigning league MVP has just been that good since putting on a Toronto shirt for the first time last season.
Stopping him is going to be crucial if Orlando wants any chance at a victory on Saturday, though it's worth taking a look at some lesser known players that could find their way into the starting lineup, with Toronto's cupboards looking pretty bare at the moment.
Tsubasa Endoh is one such guy. A former rising star in the Japanese national team academy system, Endoh was forced to flee his hometown of Fukushima after the devastating earthquakes that leveled Japan in 2011. After relocating to the United States and the University of Maryland, he was picked up by Toronto in the first round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. And now he could be lining up alongside Sebastian Giovinco. Not a bad comeback story.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, Toronto FC 1
Kaká's return should give Orlando City a boost, though I don't see the Lions playing well enough to really overpower a tired TFC squad missing two designated player. And Giovinco is probably talented enough to score one all by himself.
So yeah, it's going to be close. But Orlando deserved a win against San Jose last week and they won't fail to deliver the goods for the second week in a row at home. Look for Kaká and Cyle Larin to pick up right where they left off and for the Lions to get a much needed victory.