With week one of the 2017 season inching closer and closer, it is time to start thinking about the starting XI the Lions and Head Coach Jason Kreis will look to. Over the course of the transfer window, changes have been made and, for the most part, those changes have all been for the better.
Kreis has a preferred lineup formation of a 4-4-2 diamond. This formation is a 4-3-1-2 by application and is what Kreis has used throughout much of his career. Here is a breakdown position by position.
Goalkeeper is probably one of the easiest positions to break down and one of the club’s deeper spots with the recent acquisition of Josh Saunders from NYCFC. Saunders is a great pickup by OCSC as a true shot stopper. He has been in fine form over much of his time with NYCFC and was one of their most reliable players through his time with the team. Much of the same can be expected from Saunders in 2017 as he steps foot on the field for the Lions. However, Joe Bendik is the incumbent and it would be surprising if he didn’t get the nod as the starter on March 5.
The center back pairing is one of the most important elements for any team, anywhere in the world. Orlando City is starting with at least one new face. The first player into the center back rotation is newly acquired defender Jonathan Spector. Spector can play many positions across the back line and even play at the defensive mid role, but his most likely position for now is the center back spot. He brings experience to the defense that is much needed.
The pairing with Spector would ideally be José Aja, the 23-year-old Uruguayan international. Aja made 10 appearances for OCSC last season as he was a summer signing for the club. Pairing him with Spector could make Aja more valuable in the long run, as Spector could provide the right leadership to better not only the defense but more importantly Aja.
Donny Toia and Rafael Ramos should be the two men expected to start on the outside of the defense. Toia had one of his better seasons statistically last year as he helped the Montreal Impact through 17 appearances. Rafael Ramos still has all of the potential that his 2015 season saw. Struggling through injuries in 2016, Ramos will be looking for a big return in 2017. With both of these men along the back line, OCSC has an opportunity to get ball forward and create an attacking presence from the back. Both can be well served in the starting XI.
Orlando City is now without Kevin Molino, but the Lions obviously have higher hopes as they move forward. Two of the focal points will be newly acquired Will Johnson and last year’s summer acquisition, Matias Perez Garcia. MPG had a decent season last year as he was able to finish the season strong after struggling through some injuries. Kreis has said he sees Perez Garcia as a possible No. 10, so let’s go with that for now.
Orlando City has good depth at defensive midfield and the addition of Johnson gives the club an experienced man in running Kreis’ system. It should be stated that in the past Johnson has played more of a wide role in the diamond formation under Kreis. So look for that. Johnson could play on the right or left, opposite Brek Shea, with potentially Antonio Nocerino or Cristian Higuita in the No. 6 role.
Up at forward, the one guarantee can be Cyle Larin. As he goes into 2017, he is truly hoping to have a special season. With the way the midfield is stacking up, fans should have every reason to believe in his ability. But who is to be paired up top with him? First of all, fans should expect Kaká to be in and out of the forward role as more than likely he will drift there from midfield and back. The captain is versatile enough to play a forward position but could slide back into the midfield to give way for a younger striker such as Carlos Rivas or even Shea, who opened camp up top with Larin before Kaká had his medical.