Orlando City SC Captain Kaká is returning right in time for the transition into the Jason Kreis era -- can he provide the scoring spark for what may be a defensively oriented tactical shift? How has Hadji Barry performed in his first year as a pro? Can the Lions contain Lee Nguyen and earn three points at home?
The Pride were beaten badly by the Seattle Reign -- can they rebound with a win against the Boston Breakers? Jeff Milby, Brent Petkus, and Daniel McGann discuss all this and more in this week's edition of The Mane Land Roundtable.
Kaká came on for 30 minutes against Columbus and completely changed the match. How will his return ease the transition into the Kreis era?
Jeff: Having Kaká healthy and in the lineup is vital to Orlando City's identity, especially in the early weeks of the Kreis era. Getting your star players to buy in and be a part of the process early is key for a new coach, and when your star is a player the stature of Kaká, having them available to set the tone in the early stages of a coaching tenure is hugely important. The sooner Kaká is a part of the process, the sooner we see what Kreis' Orlando City will be.
Brent: Kaká is one of the key cogs to the success of Orlando City. We have seen this team play better with him on the field, and he forces defenses to know where he is on the field at all times. He can make passes and create chances unlike anyone in the league. His return will be crucial to Kreis' success as he needs to play within the system and do what he does best in creating dangerous opportunities.
Daniel: If he returns to play consistently then there is no question Kaká will have an impact. The questions are: How much will he be able to play, and how long he can he stay healthy?
Hadji Barry scored in the friendly against Stoke City -- on a scale of 1-10, how encouraged are you by the former first-round draft pick's performances this season?
Brent: I give Hadji Barry an eight. He has made a huge impact on this team in his first year. Most MLS rookies spend most of their time loaned out or on the club's USL team, but Barry's play has been elevated in the last few matches for Orlando City. He's shown that he has a lot of upside and can play at the MLS level. We have to remember Orlando City traded up to take him and that move looks pretty good right now.
Daniel: Seven. That number allows me to account for his physical abilities without over-hyping a player who still needs to find a touch and learn how to make more than just a forward run. The good thing is he has all the physical tools needed to make an impact.
Jeff: I'll give him a six. The 23-year-old rookie has shown flashes of what made him a first-round pick, but he has yet to make a large impact in a regular season game, save for his hockey assist in the opener. His speed makes you turn your head, and it is definitely an asset coming off of the bench where it could potentially turn Barry into a key difference maker late in games against defenders with heavy legs. Overall not bad, but not great.
After the Stoke City match, Kreis mentioned a desire to defend for 45 minutes, then open up the attack in the second half. Do you think this approach will serve the Lions well?
Daniel: I'm not sure he was saying bunker and then attack in the later half. I think Kreis is smart enough to know Orlando has been a strong second half team this year and the point is to not be playing from behind after 45.
Brent: If you don't concede goals you won't lose. That isn't exactly what people want to hear, nor is it a way to play the beautiful game. This was an exhibition and you can use that to work on things like defending, and Orlando City's defensive shape has been poor at best. In games that don't matter, managers tend to use it as a competitive training session. Orlando City sat back and defended and worked on its shape, ensuring the team stayed compact in defense. This team can breakout on the attack, so if we can defend and minimize goals we have a better chance to secure wins.
Jeff: I do like this approach. Defense wins championships in Major League Soccer, so establishing a defense-first mentality in his squad is about the only approach that Kreis should take in the embryonic stages of his reign if he is serious about turning Orlando into a contender. The Lions' goals-against record hasn't been egregious this season (especially when you consider that the team leading the Eastern Conference has given up the most goals in the league by a decent margin), but it hasn't been good either. A solid defensive foundation is key to turning this thing in the direction we all know it can go.
Up next is New England Revolution, which sits three points ahead while having played one more game than Orlando. Do you expect a win when the Lions return to the Campground?
Jeff: A win is certainly more likely here than against lots of other opponents in the league. New England has won just twice this season against teams with a realistic shot at the playoffs (against NYRB and Vancouver), while all four of Orlando's victories this year have come against quality opponents.The Revs are on a good run of form, with two wins and a draw in their last three, but Orlando is a step up in overall quality (if not consistency) compared to Columbus and Chicago. Orlando is undefeated at home so far, so if there is a winner in this one, I'd expect it to be wearing purple. That said, I think a draw is the most likely outcome.
Brent: I think that this team is capable of winning on Sunday. There are so many question marks that surround the game. What will be Jason Kreis' first-choice lineup? Will Kaká and Cyle Larin be 100% after playing in the MLS All-Star Game Thursday in San Jose? There will be a lot of excitement at Camping World Stadium because of the new coach. If Orlando City can defend well, it will win this game.
Daniel: I always expect a win at home, but as we have seen a draw is more likely. However, a win is needed for this team and this match could be the one to fill that need.
Lee Nguyen was fantastic in May, but has slowed down considerably in recent weeks. Can Orlando City keep him quiet, or will he bounce back against this defense?
Brent: Lee Nguyen is one of the best attacking midfielders in the league. He is going to get his opportunities in the match, what Orlando City has to do is minimize his touches on the ball in dangerous areas. The Lions need to stay compact within the back four and force him to play around the defense instead of through. The worst thing that can happen is him running at the back line with strikers on his side making runs, because he will play the perfect ball that will set up a goal. I will say we will do a good job of minimizing his chances because of Kreis' focus on defending this week.
Daniel: We can keep him quiet. With the current DMs on this roster and the return of Kaká, possession should be in favor of the home team and allow us to keep Nguyen at bay.
Jeff: Regardless of the form he is in, there's no doubt that Nguyen is a major part of Orlando's scouting report. Nguyen scored in the Revs' win over Columbus two games ago. Expect someone to be inside Nguyen's shirt defensively any time he crosses the midfield stripe. Expect Nguyen to have a solid game, though.
The Pride struggled mightily against Seattle Reign, falling 5-2. How does a loss of that stature affect a team during the season?
Jeff: If MLS is any precedent, a devastatingly one-sided loss can sometimes mean very little in the grand scheme of the season (looking at NYCFC's 7-0 loss to NYRB earlier this season). The loss certainly hurt the Pride in the goal differential department, which currently sits at -4, and it doesn't help them in the playoff hunt either. This was by far the biggest loss and biggest scoreline of a Pride game this season, so time will tell if it has longer-lasting effects. As professionals, sometimes it's best to have a short memory.
Daniel: The way this team has settled so far in its inaugural season, not much. The Pride have played their hearts out and I expect them to continue doing so.
Brent: This part of the season is tough for the Orlando Pride because they are missing so many players due to the Olympics. I don't think a loss affects them any more than any other loss. They know they need points in the next few matches after the Olympic break. Blowout losses can sometimes cause teams to crumble, however, this team has some great leadership and I just don't think they are going to worry about it and focus their energy on the next game.
It took two late Kristen Edmonds goals to beat the Boston Breakers the last time these two clubs matched up. How can Tom Sermanni better prepare the Pride this time around?
Brent: I think the issue with the Orlando Pride is with so many key internationals out, it's tough to keep a team shape. The defending was not up to the usual quality. Like Orlando City, I believe the focus was on team shape and getting the defense on the same page as many haven't played together in a game situation. If they can minimize shots in dangerous areas, I feel they can come away with a result on the road.
Jeff: Sermanni will certainly know a little better of what to expect against Boston, this being Orlando's second meeting with the Breakers. Combating a slow start on the road will likely be a big focus in the Pride's preparation for this one, so if they can execute in the early portions of the game their chances of a second road victory of the season to go along with a regular season sweep of Boston is more likely.
Daniel: I am not sure if Tom can do more to prepare the Pride, I think the players need to find a spark on the field.
And this edition of the roundtable is adjourned. Let your opinions be heard below, and show up at the Campground for Jason Kreis' league debut.