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How Orlando City’s Defense Will be Tested in the First Month of the Season

After a shaky 2016, the revamped Lions’ back line will be under fire against the New York City FC, the New England Revolution, and the Philadelphia Union in March.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City SC starts its third MLS campaign this Sunday with huge expectations. With a new stadium to call home and aiming for the playoffs after two consecutive seasons falling short of them, the Lions know that an improved performance from their back line is one of the key points to go further in 2017.

The club worked well bringing new faces to revamp its defense and, even though the numbers in preseason weren’t impressive, with the likes of Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia and PC around — and improved versions of José Aja and Tommy Redding — Orlando City seems poised to be more solid defensively in the upcoming season.

The Lions back line will be in the spotlight from day one and the truth is that the first month of Major League Soccer will provide many of the answers the fans expect, with Orlando City playing against New York City FC, New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union over the course of March.

In different ways, each of the three Eastern Conference rivals will provide valuable tests for the Lions’ back line. Understand how and know what to expect from each of the three match-ups:

Vs. New York City FC – March 5

MLS: Playoffs-Toronto FC at New York City FC Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There will be a lot to look at in Orlando City’s season opener, especially the new stadium, but the defense is expected to have a hard time containing NYCFC’s offense, which was the best in the 2016 MLS regular season, with 62 goals.

A lot of what New York City does offensively has to do with star forward David Villa, the reigning MLS Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot Winner. The 35-year-old Spanish striker is extremely smart and competent inside the box and will demand a high level of attention from the center backs.

New York City can also hurt teams with their speed on the wings, especially with Jack Harrison and Tommy McNamara and their new Designated Player, Maxi Moralez. Also, don’t forget Andrea Pirlo’s long balls and set pieces. Altogether, it’s a lot to be concerned about.

At New England Revolution – March 11

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In their first road game of the season, the Lions will have to deal with one of the most physical players of MLS, New England Revolution striker Kei Kamara. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, the Sierra Leone native is really tough to defend, especially inside the box.

The former Columbus Crew SC forward, who scored 26 goals for the Ohio side in its 2015 MLS Cup run, is arguably the best header in the League and the Revs try to make the most of it, feeding with countless crosses, especially with left back Chris Tierney.

Other than Kamara, the Revolution can put the Lions in trouble with the combination of Lee Nguyen’s passing skills and Juan Agudelo’s smart movement and speed. The duo has the potential to break defenses in a heartbeat and denying them the space they need to operate will be essential.

Vs. Philadelphia Union – March 18

MLS: Sporting KC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When they play the Philadelphia Union, the Lions will have to be ready to defend not a great player, but several very good ones. If it lacks a star up front, Philadelphia possesses a lot of effective options, making the lineup partially unpredictable.

The team can be dangerous from the wings, with Chris Pontius, Ilsinho, Fabian Herbers and Fafa Picault; from the middle, with Alejandro Bedoya and Roland Alberg; and up top, with C.J. Sapong, Charlie Davies, or Jay Simpson, providing Head Coach Jim Curtin a lot of flexibility to work with.

Of the mentioned players, the inconsistent Sapong could be a particular threat, thanks to his amazing pace. Defending the Virginia native will require an effective communication between the center backs to cover spaces, which can be tricky, as José Aja is not fluent in English yet.