Orlando City didn’t do itself any favors with a second consecutive 4-1 drubbing against D.C. United on Saturday night. The Lions (7-10-13, 34 points) have now dropped three straight, and sit three points behind D.C. for the final playoff spot in the East with four games remaining.
The club’s tough road continues on Wednesday with a clash with Toronto FC at BMO Field.
Toronto (13-8-9, 48 points) is one of three teams in the East that has already clinched a playoff spot, as the Reds sit tied with New York City FC and New York Red Bulls for first place in the conference. The Reds, who have lost just once in their last six games, will be looking to continue their dominance of Orlando City in MLS, having beaten the Lions in four of the the five match-ups to this point.
Orlando City took the first 2016 meeting with Toronto back in June before falling 2-1 at home just last month.
Jason Kreis is running through a difficult time in his short tenure as Orlando City head coach. His team has given up 12 goals in its last three games and is struggling to score goals despite the positive connections forming between the attacking midfield trio — Kaká, Matias Perez Garcia, and Kevin Molino.
Tommy Redding has rejoined the team in Toronto after spending the weekend with Orlando City B in Pennsylvania. That, of course, will be a boost for the defense, whether on the bench or in the starting lineup. I wrote in the D.C. United preview that I thought Rafael Ramos would start. He didn’t. Kreis again stuck with Kevin Alston at right back, and that again showed Alston's weaknesses on that side. With the short week and playing the full 90 on Saturday, I think Kreis makes the switch this time and gets Ramos into the lineup.
As the short week comes into play, we will probably be looking at a couple of changes up front in the attacking midfield. Kaká only played 66 minutes against D.C., so he’ll be fresh enough to make the start. Kreis could look at giving minutes to Brek Shea, who didn’t play on Saturday. The inverted wingers have worked for Kreis, and Shea on the right could spark some necessary life against Toronto.
And then up top, Carlos Rivas for Cyle Larin seems like a natural fit with Larin’s recent struggles and load of minutes of late. He needs a break.
The big story line with Toronto, of course, is the lack of a Sebastian Giovinco, who is out with an injury. That’ll be a big plus for Orlando City, which has had trouble dealing with him in many of their recent meetings.
Elsewhere, however, you still have Jozy Altidore to watch for. The American striker has been on fire of late — maybe his best form since coming back to MLS before the start of last season. Altidore’s eight goals this season are second on the team behind only Giovinco (who has 16).
Greg Vanney’s lineups have all shared similar looks of late. Michael Bradley sits in the deep midfield pulling the strings at the bottom of a diamond behind Jonathan Osorio, Will Johnson, and either Marco Delgado or Benoit Cheyrou.
It’s taken quite some time, but the club has also finally fixed its defense, which has been a big reason for its turnaround this season and why it's in the running for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto, unlike, Orlando, built its defense around a tough, veteran presence, and it has worked. Drew Moor and Justin Morrow are having good years. Nick Hagglund and Steven Beitashour will likely round out the back four in front of goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
Player to Watch For
Orlando City is going to have to keep a very close eye on Altidore up top. Eight goals in 11 games since returning from injury — including a goal against the Lions at Camping World Stadium last month — has helped carry Toronto while it plays through the absence of Giovinco.
The Lions’ defense couldn’t stop D.C., it couldn’t stop Columbus, it couldn’t stop LA, and now it’s going to be put to test again and be forced to stop Toronto and, primarily, Altidore.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Toronto FC 1
Orlando City needs every point it can get from here on out in order to stay in the playoff race. While a win in Toronto would obviously be huge, a draw could also go a long way depending on how some of the other results around the league go.