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Orlando City’s Defense Faces Toughest Test Yet Against Los Angeles Galaxy

They’ve stood up to the challenges so far, but this weekend is the biggest test yet for Orlando’s defenders.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t be fooled by their slow start to the season. The Los Angeles Galaxy have the weapons to give Orlando City the toughest test it has had so far this young season. The Galaxy have seven goals through their first five games this season, good enough to be tied for eighth-most in the league. Only the Portland Timbers have managed to keep them from scoring, and with the number of weapons the Galaxy have at their disposal, it’s easy to see that Saturday’s clash is going to be a tough test for the City defenders.

Orlando has managed to weather storms from potent offenses already this year — the Lions have allowed at least 12 shots in each of their three home wins — and Saturday should be no different. But the Galaxy are a different animal than New York City FC, the Philadelphia Union, or the New York Red Bulls. The amount of depth and quality they have across their attacking line will test the entirety of Orlando’s defense. Allowing them to put 12-14 shots toward Joe Bendik could spell disaster for the Lions.

The biggest addition to the Galaxy this year was arguably one of the best signings in the league this off-season. French midfielder Romain Alessandrini left his home country to bolster LA’s attack and he’ll be more than a handful for Donny Toia and the rest of Orlando’s left flank. He already has three goals this year, all from a decent distance, and has been the Galaxy’s most consistent threat. He has the ability to cut inside and put in a good cross and cause mayhem for whomever has to mark him. Toia, who has been a vast improvement defensively over who Orlando City has had at left back in the past, will be up for his toughest test of the year.

Toia has been able to keep Ethan Finlay, Daniel Royer and Fabian Herbers relatively quiet; combined, they managed two shots and neither were on target. He had some trouble with Jack Harrison though, who nearly scored if not for some Bendik heroics. Alessandrini is on another level than all of them.

If they can keep the Frenchman at bay, there’s still Giovani dos Santos to deal with. The Mexican star was able to score 14 times in 28 appearances in 2016 but he only has one so far this year. Jonathan Spector has proven to be a revelation for Orlando, being the organizational and defensive centerpiece the Lions have lacked. His partnership with Tommy Redding survived the barrage against the Red Bulls, but he’ll need to keep his young protegee even more disciplined against LA.

Redding has proven to be a solid defender in solo situations, but there’s a reason Kreis has kept him behind Jose Aja in the pecking order. Spector and Redding lack a definite aerial presence between them and New York had multiple opportunities off corners to level things up last week. The Galaxy have the size and ability to make things happen through the air, so it will be interesting to see how the team copes.

They will also have to deal with the pace of Gyasi Zardes and Emmanuel Boateng, who combined for 10 assists and eight goals in 2016. Scott Sutter managed to hold his own in his first start in purple on both ends of the pitch, but Boateng is a different kind of player than Sacha Kljestan. We haven’t seen Sutter take on a more athletic attacker and Orlando struggled with the Columbus Crew’s pacey attack. The Galaxy have a similar threat on the counter — if not a more lethal one — with dos Santos potentially waiting at the end. LA can punish teams for the simplest mistakes and taking care of possession will be crucial to coming away with a positive result. It’s not just the wingers and forwards that can score on the counter either, as Montreal learned last week.

Teams like the Galaxy can never be counted out with the talent they’ve got, no matter their form or the distance they’ve traveled. And while Orlando City has relied on its defense to produce results so far in 2017, the club will be put to its toughest test yet on Saturday.