Jason Kreis finds himself in a unique position heading into Orlando City's game with the Montreal Impact tonight, as the club sits one point behind D.C. United (7-9-11, 32 points) and one ahead of eighth-place New England Revolution (7-12-9, 30). With one game in hand on the former and two on the latter, finding the right balance between the upper and lower echelons of the roster will prove to be crucial to any playoff aspirations.
The club has done well to get in front of the busy last leg of the season, with transfer purchase José Aja acclimating himself to MLS quickly and Orlando City B call-ups Mikey Ambrose and Tony Rocha immediately putting in meaningful minutes. Aja and Ambrose stand to see a healthy amount of starter's minutes, as back line struggles have provided opportunities the duo have capitalized on. The right back position has been a problem all year, but at least featured depth before Rafael Ramos went down to injury. With the speedster on one leg, Kevin Alston has filled in to mixed results with no alternative. But now Ramos is poised to return, and just in time.
Rocha's quality contributions have come at an important time, with Cristian Higuita being sidelined with a bad hamstring. He's completed 89.5% of his passes and has created three chances in just 160 minutes of work. Matías Pérez García has proven to be a threatening midfield presence playing off or in place of Kaká, creating strikes at the net with his precision linking passes. Inversely, we've seen Brek Shea's form plummet, and the club will need consistent stretches of the skill he's flashed only sporadically in recent stretches.
While Cyle Larin continues to find the net for Orlando City, there's no doubting he'll need rest. Júlio Baptista has been exposed as a midfielder, and is perhaps best at use up top to pair with the captain and Kevin Molino. Hadji Barry's speed is a definite weapon, though if you had to pick between he or burner Carlos Rivas, you might be more inclined to take Rivas even with his inclination to send balls into the stands.
Finding a way to stay fit and competitive match after match is the key to solving the playoff puzzle, and Kreis has the pieces in his hands.