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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. New York City FC

Can the Lions continue their success against the other 2016 expansion team and finally get an opening day win?

Founding members of the sexy beard society.
Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

Orlando City has won its last two games and New York City FC has lost its last two. None of that really matters when you consider that:

  1. Those games occurred last season, and
  2. NYCFC’s were playoff contests against Toronto, while Orlando’s were meaningless matches just playing out the string.

The Lions will want to show they are a better team than last year. They’ll want to open their new stadium with a win. And they’ll want to get a passing grade from the rebuilt back line that Jason Kreis constructed in the off-season — anchored by the big winter acquisition, Jonathan Spector.

It’s been a minute since we’ve squared off against New York City FC, so let’s find out more about them. Here to help us scout tomorrow night’s opponents is Jake Gofman from SB Nation’s New York City FC blog, Hudson River Blue. And if you want to see how I responded to their questions, you can head over to their place.

What are New York City FC's key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how do you expect them to affect the team?

Jake Gofman: Coincidentally, you happened to email me just before NYCFC announced they'd bought out former USMNT and poet laureate Mix Diskerud. While Mix wasn't an important part of the team last year, his departure sheds New York of the last remnants of the Kreis style of play. Moving forward, Patrick Vieira now has the squad he wants in place.

There were more important departures for the club, namely the retirement of Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola. Lampard's NYCFC time will be recalled with mixed reviews, as he struggled to find the pitch and his form under Kreis, was injured and openly booed by fans in the first part of the 2016 season, all before endearing himself to the faithful, scoring 11 times in 21 appearances. No one can replicate Frank's tenacity and sense for positioning, but he'll be replaced by more creative and speedy players.

The loss of Iraola stings more for the club, as he was a constant in the side and was solid in his role in front of the defense. The loan expired for Federico Bravo, who covered at times for Iraola, and their cumulative loss leaves a big hole to cover for NYCFC.

The club's biggest addition and the replacement for Frank Lampard is Maximiliano Morales, the club's third Designated Player. Maxi or "Frasquito," which translated to "Little Flask" (go figure) is a true number 10 player, and is coming to NYC in his prime, having just turned 30. Frasquito is coming over from Leon in Liga MX, but played the majority of his time in Serie A with Atalanta.

NYCFC also added some intriguing young talent in Cincinnati FC forward Sean Okoli and third overall pick in the MLS Draft Jonathan Lewis from Akron. Keeper Sean Johnson comes over from the Chicago Fire and should be an upgrade over Josh Saunders (have fun, Orlando!).

NYCFC took a huge leap forward last year, but the club won't be able to sneak up on anyone in 2017. Do you expect a step forward or backward in 2017 and how much of that will depend upon David Villa staying healthy?

JG: If you watched this team last year, game in, game out, and you were honest with yourself, you'd have to admit that NYCFC wasn't the second best team in the Eastern Conference. That's not to say the team didn't exceed expectations, but in regards to your question, I think it's important that we recognize that the team may well improve this year without besting its second-place finish.

We may finish at the top of the East again, but it's going to depend on two things. The first, as you appropriately identified, is having David Villa, and many of our other key personnel, stay healthy throughout the season. As any Orlando fan will tell you, you can only go as far as the strength of the players you field, and NYC, like any other team, will struggle if Villa, Pirlo, Harrison, etc. lose time to injury.

The second key that will define our success is our defense. While New York has no problems scoring, the team has got to get consistent performances out of its defense if it hopes to finish at the top of the conference.

We've now got a preferred center back pairing in Maxime Chanot and Fredric Brillant, but they've got to be able to defend as a unit alongside our RJ Allen and Ronald Matarrita — two players that relish playing in the attacking half. Without Andoni Iraola's consistent cover, NYC will have to provide enough coverage for the CBs as possible without stymying their vaunted attack.

Are there any players out with preseason injury?

JG: No injuries to report ahead of the match. It's not an injury, but Jonathan Lewis misses the game as he's on duty with the USMNT U-20 team.

What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from New York City FC this weekend against Orlando City, and what do you view as the game's key match-up?

JG: Vieira settled on the 4-3-3 last season but it's anyone's guess sometimes with him. I'm gonna say we line up in this formation to start, to be conservative. Tactically, I wonder how we'll cover the back four without Iraola. Formations I've seen online have had a midfield three of Frasquito, Tommy Mac, and Pirlo, which is very attack-minded, unless Tommy is responsible for providing more cover.

The match-up to watch will be Cyle Larin running at our two CBs. Larin has a lot of speed and guile in his game, and Chanot and Brillant will have to be on the same page to pick up his runs and play him offside whenever possible. This match-up could define whether or not this one gets out of hand.

What is your predicted match day lineup and final score?

JG: Sean Johnson; Ronald Matarrita, Maxime Chanot, Frederic Brillant, RJ Allen; Maxi Morales, Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara; Sean Okoli, David Villa, Jack Harrison

I see this one ending in a hard fought point for each club, 2-2.

Big thanks to Jake for taking time to answer some questions about this weekend’s visiting foes.