Orlando City has gotten off to a hot start in 2017 under Jason Kreis. The Lions have pulled nine points from their first four games and are undefeated in three matches at Orlando City Stadium, most recently defeating the New York Red Bulls, 1-0, this past Sunday.
This weekend, Orlando City (3-1-0, 9 points) will welcome the boys from Hollywood, the LA Galaxy (2-3-0, 6 points), to town for the Lions’ first cross-conference match-up of the season.
These two clubs have met just twice in Orlando City’s brief MLS history. The first meeting, in 2015, famously ended with the Lions pouncing all over the Galaxy, which were at the time coming off their MLS Cup championship in 2014, for a 4-0 victory. It was Orlando’s first MLS home win. And then last fall, on Sept. 11, the Lions traveled to Carson, CA, to find themselves on the losing end of a 4-2 scoreline.
LA, meanwhile, has stumbled out of the gates to start the 2017 season, with a bevy of new faces in the spotlight for Major League Soccer’s five-time MLS Cup champions. Curt Onalfo, who previously coached the club’s USL side, Los Dos, is at the helm after Bruce Arena left to take over the U.S. Men’s National Team. Robbie Keane: gone. Steven Gerrard: gone. Landon Donovan: gone again.
Prior to defeating the Montreal Impact, 2-0, at home last Friday, the Galaxy hit the road to receive a 4-2 loss from the Vancouver Whitecaps on April 1.
Head Coach Jason Kreis finds himself in a bit of a tough spot this weekend with the Galaxy coming to town. As the club still patiently waits for Kaká to return from his hamstring injury, Antonio Nocerino, who has been a key cog in the machine for the Lions so far this season, is day-to-day with a calf strain that could keep him out of the starting lineup this weekend.
A more certain absence is that of Matias Perez Garcia, who was suspended by MLS this week for a dangerous foul in the victory over New York on Sunday. Should Kreis miss Nocerino in addition to MPG, the rest of the Lions’ roster will need to step up to replace his defensive contributions in the lineup.
It’s always tough to say exactly what a coach might do in any upcoming game, but Kreis finds himself more limited in what he can do this weekend against LA. We saw the official debut of the diamond formation against the Red Bulls, but going back to it again this weekend would mean doing so without a true play-maker to man the top of the diamond, as MPG did. That would mean, most likely, we see Kreis return to the flat 4-4-2 midfield, with Giles Barnes and Will Johnson out wide, and Cristian Higuita and Servando Carrasco manning the middle.
I will admit I haven’t watched much of the Galaxy so far this season, but here’s what I do know: Giovani dos Santos is a good goal-scorer and will test Jonathan Spector and Tommy Redding. Gyasi Zardes is another electric player to keep an eye on, who just made his first start of the season last week after returning from a knee injury. If Onalfo does go back to him for a second straight week, he’ll be an important guy in sparking that attack.
Jermaine Jones is not that good, but can sometimes be good. He will probably do something bad that has a direct impact on this match, and then after the match he’ll say that play had nothing to do with the outcome and blame the media for covering him poorly.
Jelle Van Damme was one of the best defenders in the league last season. This guy is an absolute stud on the back line for Los Angeles. Same goes for right back Nathan Smith, who Onalfo recently praised after the win over Montreal. Smith has been impressive all season for LA, and will make things tough if the Lions plan to do anything down the left side of the field.
Player to Watch For:
With three goals and two assists in his last three matches, Romain Alessandrini has been a big bright spot for the Galaxy as of late, playing on the right side of their midfield. LA’s newest Designated Player signing has lived up to the expectations so far after leaving Ligue 1 over the winter. Orlando will need to play him tough to keep LA off the score sheet, as Alessandrini has scored or assisted on five of the Galaxy’s seven goals this season.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, LA Galaxy 2
This is tough for me to pick because obviously Orlando City is at home, where the club hasn’t dropped points yet, but the Lions could be missing two key players in the midfield, which is going to make things tough for them. The Galaxy haven’t see a ton of success this season, but that doesn’t make them a team to take lightly. Orlando City will remain unbeaten at home, but this one does have draw written all over it as a best-case scenario.