Like their grown up counterparts in MLS, the young Lions of Orlando City's reserve side jumped into the playoff picture with a victory last week. Can they maintain that position?
That will be the question that Mark Ridgers and co. will hope to triumphantly answer 'yes' to tonight, when Orlando City B (6-6-3, 21 points) returns home to host the Charlotte Independence (7-4-3, 24 points) at the Titan Soccer Complex at 7:30 p.m. Charlotte and Orlando have met one other time this season, a 2-1 home victory for OCB back on May 28, in which Hadji Barry netted a brace in a come-from-behind effort.
Last week, OCB secured a 3-1 road victory over FC Montreal on Sunday, which vaulted the club into seventh place and playoff position. Barry, the hero from that earlier victory against Charlotte, scored up north in Canada, along with Johnny Mendoza, which sandwiched a Montreal own-goal to complete the young Lions' scoring. With the victory, OCB is now unbeaten in its last three, including two victories away from home, and has won four of its last six while only losing one in that span.
On the other side, the Independence had fallen on hard luck with a winless run of five games over the course of a month from May 10 to June 10, but have since turned things around. Ex-Dallas Burn Head Coach Mike Jeffries has led the squad to two straight victories, including a 3-1 come-from-behind road victory over City Islanders a week ago. Forwards Jorge Herrerra and Caleb Calvert combine with midfielder Enzo Martinez as the attacking trio for Charlotte, each having scored a team-high four goals.
OCB captain and Orlando City veteran Lewis Neal will miss tonight's match after being shown a red card for the second time this season in last week's victory over Montreal.
Last Week's Lineups
OCB: Mark Ridgers; Zach Ellis-Hayden, Conor Donovan, Devron Garcia, Mikey Ambrose; Richie Laryea, Harrison Heath, Tony Rocha, Pierre da Silva, Lewis Neal; Hadji Barry
Charlotte: John Berner; Patrick Slogic, Henry Kalungi, Bilal Duckett, Joel Johnson; Yann Ekra, Enzo Martinez, Jun Marques Davidson; David Estrada, Caleb Calvert, Brian Brown
Keys To Victory
- Adolescent Assists: Pierre da Silva continues to show up as a star for this team, assisting (if you can call it that) on the own-goal last week with a dangerous cross that was chested into the net by a Montreal player. Da Silva leads OCB in assists with four and he is making quite the name for himself at a young age in the USL. The more creativity the youngster can bring in the midfield, the better OCB's attack will be this season.
- Better Competition: There was no mistake about it, OCB was the favorite last week and the Lions delivered with the 3-1 win. This week, however, is a different story. Charlotte is ahead of OCB in the standings and is in competition for playoff places, so the Colorado Rapids' USL affiliate should prove to be more of a challenge. If OCB can deal with the uptick in quality on the other side of the field and come out on top tonight, the young Lions would tie their opponents in points.
- Can He Keep It Up?: Mark Ridgers has been up to the task of playing well all season, but tonight he faces another stiff challenge in Charlotte. With 20 goals scored, the Independence are securely in the top half of the league in terms of goals scored and have put 77 shots on goal this season, which is good for fourth in the league. Stop me if you've heard this before, but if OCB is to win at home tonight, Ridgers will need to be strong yet again.