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Antonio Nocerino vs. Cristian Higuita: Who Starts on the Bottom of Jason Kreis’ Diamond?

Orlando City is expected to play in a 4-4-2 diamond formation in Kreis’ first full year in purple. With positional battles at nearly every position, who starts in the No. 6 role?

MLS: Orlando City SC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Kreis is expected to bring his Orlando City team out in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield in 2017. At this point in the preseason, most of the spots are still up for grabs and no one is guaranteed a starting position on March 5, save Kaká, Joe Bendik, and Cyle Larin.

One of the more interesting positional battles to watch will be the holding midfielder at the bottom of the diamond, and Antonio Nocerino and Cristian Huguita are the two clear front-runners to start in that hole in the season opener. Below is why each player should be the day one starter, but ultimately it will be how they each perform in preseason that makes up Kreis’ mind.

Antonio Nocerino

Nocerino came into Orlando City under an immense amount of pressure and early on he failed to live up to the hype. A large part of this is that former Lions’ head coach Adrian Heath was playing Nocerino out wide, instead of his more comfortable role as a holding midfielder. However, after a poor start to his Orlando City career, he flourished under Kreis and finished the 2016 season as one of the better players in purple.

The Italian plays best when he is in a holding role where he can sit in between the defense and midfield and direct traffic. At this point in the 31-year-old’s career, Nocerino’s leadership may be his best quality. Able to sit back below the midfield and help guide his teammates, Nocerino is able to make everyone around him better. He will not be beating many players in a footrace and his 81% passing accuracy in 2016 is not record worthy, but under Kreis he improved almost every game and was a key part of the Lions’ late run.

Cristian Higuita

Higuita is one of the best young players in MLS, and one of Orlando’s most important pieces moving forward. In 2015, Higuita turned heads in MLS with the level of chemistry that he and former Lion Darwin Ceren displayed together, and the two defensive midfielders were arguably the best central midfield duo in the league. However, 2016 was a different story.

Higuita struggled in 2016 and did not show the ability that he displayed the previous year. While he had the most tackles per game on Orlando City, he also led the team in fouls per game. With his disciplinary problems, combined with Nocerino and Servando Carasco playing better than the Colombian, Higuita did not see the field anywhere near the amount of minutes that he did in 2015.

The upcoming 2017 campaign is a different year and with it will bring a fresh mindset. Higuita not only has the ability to play on the defensive end, but can also make key passes to start up the attack. His potential is one of the brightest on the team, but will his form show it?

Who do you think should get the start? Comment below to let us know.