Orlando City (4-5-11, 23 points) returns to Camping World Stadium on Sunday with a couple things to cross off its to-do list:
- Beat the New England Revolution (6-7-8, 26 points) and get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
- Welcome Jason Kreis to Orlando and figure out what kind of formation the former Real Salt Lake and NYCFC boss has in mind.
- Don't draw. Seriously, don't draw. I know that would mean the Lions are "technically" still undefeated at home, but Orlando can't keep giving away points at home and expect to contend this season.
With 14 games left in the 2016 campaign, Orlando City still has a chance to snag its first playoff appearance in MLS history. Kaká said as much before last night's All-Star Game. But it's not going to happen unless the Lions are able to start getting results in these kinds of winnable matches.
Orlando City has drawn the Revolution in both meetings this season, with each club using late goals to steal a point on the road. A 96th-minute penalty kick saw New England draw even in Orlando, with Carlos Rivas returning the favor two weeks later in Foxborough with an equalizer in the 90th minute.
Starting XI and Lineup Predictions:
While the Kreis era is well and truly underway in Orlando, it seems unlikely that we'll see the debut of his patented 4-4-2 formation just a week into the job. Wednesday night's friendly against Stoke City gave us an idea of what Kreis could tinker with during the first couple matches of his tenure, and honestly, it doesn't seem like much.
That makes sense, since Kreis will need time to familiarize himself with a new roster and where everyone fits into his grand plan. It's a big opportunity for guys like Antonio Nocerino, who never seemed to gain the trust of the previous regime.
But on Sunday, look for a starting XI that's consistent with how Orlando has been lining up since Bobby Murphy took the reigns, bolstered by the additions of MLS All-Stars Kaká and Cyle Larin. Uruguayan international José Aja could also make his Orlando City debut.
New England Revolution:
Only one major change for New England after a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire last week, as Diego Fagúndez could return to the attacking midfield this week. The 21-year-old was linked to Serie A club Palermo earlier this month and is one of the most exciting young talents on this Revolution side.
Playing in front of New England legend Chris Tierney, Fagúndez could be a handful for Kevin Molino and Kevin Alston on the right flank.
Player to Watch:
Kei Kamara has always been one of the most enigmatic stars in MLS.
He was an MVP finalist, finished level with Golden Boot winner Sebastian Giovinco on goals (though Seba got the nod with nearly double the number of assists) and led the Crew to an MLS Cup Final appearance in 2015.
So now he's playing in Boston.
It's not a case of MLS's obsession with parity, but rather's Kamara's fixation on scoring goals that saw him wear out his welcome in Columbus. A dispute with Federico Higuaín over who would take a penalty led Kamara to trash his teammate in the press and earned him a suspension from the club, before the Crew decided they had seen enough.
While it took him a while to establish himself in New England, Kamara remains a physical presence in the final third and has scored his first three goals as a Rev this month. He'll require plenty of attention around the net and should force Orlando's back line to mark him whenever he's in sight of goal.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, New England Revolution 1
In a meeting between two evenly matched and maddeningly inconsistent clubs, I think Orlando City begins the Jason Kreis era with a victory. Hiring a new manager is usually a surefire way to generate a short-lived, but palpable boost in performance, as players work even harder to impress the new boss.
With their biggest weapons available and a rejuvenated home crowd behind them, I think the Lions collect all three points in this one.