Orlando City is off to its best start in Major League Soccer history with four wins and 12 points through its first five games. Sunday, the Lions (4-1-0, 12 points) will be tested with a trip north to the Big Apple for a rivalry match-up with New York City FC (3-2-1, 10 points) at Yankee Stadium (1:30 p.m., FS1).
These two clubs have played each other competitively in MLS dating back to their very first MLS game at Camping World Stadium on March 8, 2015. While the games have been close, it’s been Orlando City that has dominated the series (4-1-2), winning four of its last five games against NYCFC, including a 1-0 victory to open Orlando City Stadium last month.
The Lions come into the match fresh off a 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy at Orlando City Stadium this past weekend. They needed a late goal from Cyle Larin in stoppage time, but the Lions were able to grab all three points and extend their home winning streak to four games to open the campaign. In their first and only road contest of the season to this point, the Lions traveled to Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, OH, where they found themselves on the losing end of a 2-0 scoreline against the Crew, the only currently team above Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings.
As for NYCFC, the Blues have taken full advantage of the comical conditions at Yankee Stadium, where they have stayed unbeaten in their last 11 MLS fixtures (9-0-2).
Patrick Vieira’s side is coming into the match on the heels of a 2-0 win on the road at the Philadelphia Union, the match that included David Villa’s 50-yard goal from midfield.
Cyle Larin loves playing against NYCFC. To date, the Canadian striker has seven goals in just six appearances against the third-year franchise (the most goals he’s scored against any team), including the only goal in the Lions’ victory on opening day.
Around the pitch, I don’t see there being any changes other than the addition of Matias Perez Garcia back into the No. 10 role after missing last weekend’s game against the Galaxy due to suspension. Giles Barnes played well in his place, but MPG just brings a little more to the attack than Barnes.
Jason Kreis’ diamond formation actually works for the Lions in this match-up because of the smaller dimensions at Yankee Stadium, where play will be much more compact than at Orlando City Stadium. The diamond lets the team play through the middle of the park more, meaning they won’t have to adjust too much to being on a narrower field.
New York City FC
Much hasn’t changed for NYCFC since we last saw them just over six weeks ago in Orlando. David Villa has kicked off his MVP title defense with four goals and three assists through six games, while Maxi Morales, the club’s newest Designated Player signing that was supposed to add another dynamic punch in the final third, has just a goal and two assists in six games. It’s early, but he’s left more to be desired to this point. Might he find more luck against Orlando?
As a team, NYCFC has found the net 10 times this season, sixth-highest in MLS. NYCFC has also conceded just five times, which puts them just behind Orlando City in the goals against department — so another stat that has them near the top.
Also of note for New York: the club will be without explosive forward Khiry Shelton for the next 4-6 weeks after the youngster suffered a hamstring injury in the closing minutes of NYCFC’s win over Philly. Tough blow. Additionally, the club was dealt another unfortunate injury this week with Ronald Matarrita going down for an extended period of time with an ankle injury. His absence changes things tremendously for NYCFC and means the Sky Blues could send out a three-back formation Sunday. If they don’t, look for RJ Allen to get the start.
Player to Watch For:
It’s David Villa. Duh.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, New York City FC 3
I hate making these predictions because I do it based on what I actually think might happen, and am always completely off. This is going to be a real tough game, though, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see it swing in complete favor of one side, I think NYCFC extends its unbeaten run at home to 12 and Orlando picks up a well-earned point on the road, which is still a good thing.