Orlando City has 13 matches left in the 2016 MLS campaign, and the Lions are currently tied with New England on points with a game in hand for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Let's take a look at five players crucial to the Lions making the playoffs.
We recently witnessed a small rebirth of Brek Shea in the New England match. Shea will need to continue to push forward and become dangerous in the attack -- the left back experiment is over and Kreis has made his decision to play him on the outside of the midfield. Shea looked potent in the attack as he was making runs inside and outside of the defense, and his play is going to be important because he needs to be able make runs into open gaps in the defense and create 1-v-1 opportunities for his teammates in attack.
To win you have to score goals, and Cyle Larin has always been the guy for Orlando City, and he needs to continue to bury his opportunities in front of goal as the season intensifies. The Canadian's play will be important as he will need to continue to chase long balls played over the top and hold balls played to his feet. The midfielders will need an outlet to relieve pressure and provide possession away from the defending third. Larin has the ability to create something out of nothing, and his natural born goal-scoring ability will be crucial to making the playoffs. The transfer rumors are intensifying for Larin and this might be our last chance to see him in an Orlando City shirt.
Molino Mania is here. Kevin Molino has been the heartbeat of this team. The departure of Adrian Winter left a hole in the squad in terms of work rate and Molino has lifted his game to another level over the last few games to fill that void. Molino is connecting the dots in the attack and he is crucial to breaking down back lines, but defenses will get tighter and the windows will get smaller for runs and space. Molino has the soccer IQ to make runs that stretch the back line, runs that open up space for Larin and Kaká to score. If there is a scramble in front of goal, Molino has been in the right place at the right time to score goals. During the playoffs it's about the grit and determination in the final third, and Molino will be key to creating and grinding out goals.
Hot goalkeepers can steal matches, and there hasn't been a more consistent player on the field than Joe Bendik for City. Many of the draws that Orlando City accumulated were because of timely saves by Bendik, and the Lions aren't even talking about making the playoffs without his play in goal. Orlando City has some tough games against Seattle and Colorado coming up and it will need Joe to be at his best. There will be a point where Orlando will need a game to be stolen, and Bendik will need to be the one to steal it.
This goes as a no-brainer, but Kaká is going to be the most important cog in the machine for Orlando City -- his health down the stretch will be crucial to ensuring Orlando plays its best soccer in the final 13 matches. There is not another player on the roster that can play the center midfield position like the former FIFA World Player of the Year. Molino could be an option, but he doesn't provide the vision and play making ability that Kaká does. This team is better when the captain is on the field. There is no argument about it. The attack is more potent and Molino and Larin are put in better positions to score goals by the passes Kaká plays. Set pieces become extremely important in matches late in the season and Kaká is one of the best at taking them. Scoring off a set piece can be the difference in making the playoffs or being one point shy of the red line.
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