One thing we've learned from the 2016 MLS season is that win, lose, or draw (OK, it's almost always draw), Orlando City is fun to watch and never seems to be out of a match. Unfortunately, the Lions' opponents also never seem to be out of the match. With the exception of the Portland match in the season's fourth game, Orlando has yet to simply pounce on a team and play with a comfortable lead. There were chances to do that against San Jose last weekend when the score was 1-0 -- most notably on a Kevin Molino breakaway that Marvell Wynne sprinted back to make a fantastic and vital defensive play to break up.
Last season, Orlando City did not have much fun playing Toronto FC. The Lions went 0-3 in the season series, falling by a combined score of 11-1. Yuck. The lone goal from Orlando was from left back Luke Boden playing as a left wing in a 4-3-3 lineup. The closest loss was 2-0. Nothing went right, basically, and Orlando City struggled to score against a Toronto team that didn't have the best record for preventing goals.
But hope springs eternal with a new season. And we really have to hope the Lions do better against Toronto in 2016 because the teams meet three times again, with another coming at Camping World Stadium on Aug. 24 and an away fixture in Ontario on Sept. 28.
Here to help us make sense of the 2016 Reds is Mitchell Tierney, the managing editor from SB Nation's Toronto FC blog, Waking the Red. I also answered Mitchell's questions, and you can read my answers to their questions over at their place.
Who are Toronto's key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how have they affected Greg Vanney's team and approach so far in 2016?
Mitchell Tierney: Toronto FC has four key players who they added this off-season, all with a good degree of MLS experience. The first is Clint Irwin, who replaced the departed Joe Bendik in goal. Irwin has been excellent for Toronto FC so far this season, and has three straight clean sheets in all competitions going into the Orlando City match. He has played every minute of the season so far for Toronto.
Toronto was a team that leaked goals last year, and was tied as the worst defensive team in the league in 2015 with 58 goals conceded. This year, however, a pair of back line additions in Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour have shored things up. Toronto is now one of the league's better defensive teams, and it starts with Beitashour. A big concern for the back line last year was the fact that Toronto didn't have a natural right back who was healthy, and therefore was exploited on the right side of defense consistently. Beitashour changes that, and has played almost every minute of the season at the right back spot. Drew Moor has been a steady leader for the back line, which lacked leadership last year once Steven Caldwell was forced into retirement due to the injury.
The last big addition for Toronto FC is midfielder Will Johnson, who adds to an already strong Toronto midfield. The MLS veteran has fit perfectly for Toronto, and his work ethic has made him a fan favourite. Toronto FC didn't lose much this off-season, aside from Bendik, but the loss of Luke Moore and Herculez Gomez offensively has hurt the attacking depth.
After Giovinco's coming out party in 2015, how are teams playing differently against him in 2016 and how much success have they had?
MT: As they say, you can't really stop Sebastian Giovinco, you can only hope to contain him. Teams have tried all sorts of strategies since entering the league, to varying degrees of success. The most successful approach to shutting down Giovinco appears to be shutting down his service, which forces him to come deeper into the midfield and beat more players on his way to goal. Once that is accomplished, teams who get physical with him, and get away with it, are often rewarded. The problem is he is one of the best in the league from dead ball situations, and can score free kicks from anywhere around the box. At the end of the day, if Giovinco is truly on there is very little anyone in MLS is able to do about it, and he will score at least once.
What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from Toronto FC this weekend against what is most likely going to be a 4-2-3-1 by Orlando City, and what do you view as the game's key match-up?
MT: Toronto FC has traditionally played a 4-4-2 diamond under Greg Vanney, which works fairly well against Orlando's proposed formation. Will Johnson will likely play at the base of the diamond, with rookie Tsubasa Endoh at the top and Canadians Jonathan Osorio and Jay Chapman in the middle. Veteran midfielder Benoit Cheyrou could start, but is coming off injury and has been overused as it is by Toronto FC lately. The key to the match will play out in the final third for Toronto. They have proven this season to be solid defensively, but with Jozy Altidore out goals have been few and far between. If they want to earn more than a point in Orlando they will need to create more offensively than they have lately. Either that or hope Sebastian Giovinco has one of his moments of inspiration, which is always a possibility, especially against an Orlando team that he has dominated since coming over to MLS.
Can you please give us your key injury/suspension/international absences, projected starting XI and score prediction?
MT: International Absences: Michael Bradley (USA).
Injuries: Jozy Altidore, Daniel Lovitz, Ashtone Morgan.
Projected 11: Clint Irwin; Justin Morrow, Drew Moor, Eriq Zalaveta, Nick Hagglund; Will Johnson, Jay Chapman, Jonathan Osorio, Tsubasa Endoh; Jordan Hamilton, Sebastian Giovinco.
I'll go with a 1-1 predicted score line.
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Big thanks to Mitchell from Waking the Red for giving us some insight on tonight's opponents from the Great White North.