Orlando City SC looks stronger in 2017 and that has a lot to do with the roster’s depth the Lions managed to build this season. The club added several new faces to its squad and has interesting options to go with in many spots of the field.
This situation gives Head Coach Jason Kreis the problem every gaffer looks forward to: the task of choosing his starters from several good options available. In three specific positions, the Lions’ coach will have to think a little more and might even change his mind as the season goes on, as the competition between two or more players should be really intense.
Aja vs. Redding
Jonathan Spector has assured his starting spot at the center back position with the great performances he had so far. But who will be his sidekick for most of the season?
All the early answers pointed to José Aja, as the 23-year-old defender had a solid start to the season before injuring his hamstring against Columbus Crew SC in the Lions’ third match. His absence left the door open for Tommy Redding, who impressed against the New York Red Bulls and was praised by Kreis.
The Uruguayan still looks a safe bet for the starting job, but if Redding can keep up with the good level of his performances while Aja is out he could raise some questions in Kreis’ head.
Johnson vs. Nocerino vs. Higuita vs. Carrasco
If there is a position where Kreis definitely cannot complain about his options, it’s the defensive/center midfielder. Will Johnson, Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Higuita, and Servando Carrasco are all starting-caliber players and each of them can help the team in a different way.
Due to their experience and status, Jonhson and Nocerino are the presumed starters here. The Canadian has been outstanding this season, helping out even as a right back when needed, while the Italian became one of the leaders of the roster in 2017 and improved his play noticeably this season.
However, injuries happen, as the calf inflammation that threatened to sideline Nocerino, and Higuita and Carrasco will have their chances to play. If they do as well as they did against the Red Bulls, they can improve their stock quickly. There is also the possibility that three of them play together in the 4-4-2 diamond.
Rivas vs. Barnes
When Kaká returns from his hamstring injury, he will have his armband and his starting spot back. Cyle Larin, in great shape, and Matías Pérez García, working hard on both sides of the field, are not going anywhere either, so that leaves just one available position in dispute on the offensive square.
Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes are the two contestants to join the trio. While the Colombian is having his best MLS season so far and apparently found a good chemistry with Larin up front, the Englishman brings more experience and finishing power.
Rivas seems to be the favorite to keep his starting role because of his energy and potential but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Barnes was called to help with his leadership and versatility later on in the season.