The gates to MLS 2017 swing open this Sunday night for Orlando City. Expectations are high at the beginning of a season, but what can Orlando City fans watch for in the first match of the season?
Orlando Switches to Two Attackers
Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas turned in positive performances this preseason as an attacking pair. Jason Kreis started the pair in preseason matches, and it looks like he has enough faith in the new two-man attack to start Sunday evening with two forwards.
We know preseason results can prove unreliable when it comes to predicting regular season success, so Sunday will be the first real test of the pairing’s potential. Without a replacement for Kevin Molino, Orlando fans will hope that switching to a two-man front provides comparable attacking production to previous campaigns.
Larin has operated as the lone front man for most of his time with Orlando, so he will likely remain the highest point of attack for most of the match. But, with Rivas’s speed, the team has the option to play more direct. Does this mean Larin and Rivas interchange who leads the line, or will the two assume the traditional flat two forward look?
Who Steps Up in Midfield?
One question remains for Orlando’s midfield this season: who will finally lock down the defensive center midfield position?
The three contenders fighting for the DCM starting spot are Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco, and Cristian Higuita (Will Johnson can also play the position, but it looks like a position for the three to fight for at the moment). Unfortunately, Higuita will have to wait to make his case after picking up a preseason injury.
All three players have proven themselves to be quality MLS midfielders, but the team has lacked grit and bite in this position in the past. It looks like the starting job is Nocerino’s to lose at this point; and with Kreis leaning toward a traditional 4-4-2 at the moment, the team only needs one DCM.
At times, the job of a DCM is thankless, but if one of these three players can support the defense by consistently breaking up opposition passes and runs in front of the back four, Orlando will surely improve as a defensive unit. Strong performances in the center of the park will take some pressure off of a new-look back four. One of these three will get a chance to claim the role on Sunday.
Does Orlando Have a New Defensive Identity?
Orlando brought in three defensive replacements this off-season in Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia, and Victor “PC” Giro. The defense is, without question, better equipped than last year. The club even brought an additional fullback in yesterday with the signing of Scott Sutter.
But soccer is a team game. The good teams attack as a team and defend as a team. For Orlando to win in 2017, the team’s defensive mentality will have to be different. Kaká and Larin both mentioned a new mentality this preseason. Kaká said that the team does not attack with only four or defend with four or six (see 28:40), but they are focused on attacking and defending as a unit.
What will this look like tomorrow? Will the team press high up the field as a unit, or will NYCFC be allowed to possess the ball across the back? If there is indeed a change in the team’s defensive mentality, fans will notice a change after only a few minutes of Sunday’s match.
Tomorrow, fans can finally see what the team has been working on this preseason. What will you be watching for Sunday evening?