Orlando City takes to the road for only the second time in 2017, this time heading to the foosball table-sized pitch in Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC. The Sky Blues were the Lions’ first victims in their new stadium, with Orlando City winning, 1-0, over David Villa and company, but losing captain Kaká to injury in the process, just 10 minutes in.
During Orlando City’s 4-1-0 start, New York City FC has put together a 3-2-1 start (2-0-1 at home) and sits just two points behind the Lions in the Eastern Conference standings, although the soccer Yankees have played one more match. The games between the two 2015 MLS expansion sides have historically been close and entertaining so far, and there’s no reason to think these two early playoff contenders won’t do it again.
Here to help us scout tomorrow’s opponents once again 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.
Now that New York City FC has played six games, what are the notable differences to last year’s team that finished second in the East and does this year’s model look better or worse than the 2016 edition?
Jake Gofman: It starts with defense. This is a considerably more stout defensive team than the 2016 iteration, which gave up a ton of goals (57, good for second most). So far, we've conceded just five goals in our first six games, two of which (by my count) were cheap and came from silly mistakes. Even with the cheapies, that's less than a goal a game for New York this year.
Our early defensive effectiveness is coming from two places. First, there's continuity in our CB pairing. Newcomer Alexander Callens was paired up with 2016 mid-year signing Maxime Chanot in preseason and the two of them have looked very comfortable this season so far. Patrick Vieira has put a little extra insurance at the back as well in converted RB Ethan White, who has played primarily as a central defender in his time in MLS. These three together have given us more cover and allowed LB Ronald Matarrita to play a hybrid wing position and make an impact in the final third.
The second reason for our early success is new signing Alexander Ring. The Finnish international who came over from Bundesliga 2 over the summer has been the consummate no. 8 for NYC, providing defensive cover for the midfield and igniting the attack from deep. He's been a godsend after Andoni Iraola's departure and he's done the work of 1.5 midfielders with Andrea Pirlo's deteriorating defensive abilities.
Offensively, it's a little too early to tell if New York is going to be better than its 2016 team that scored the most goals in MLS. So far, so good though, as the team has scored 10 goals in its first six matches. Maxi Morales has looked every part the DP we signed him to be, while Rodney Wallace has been an excellent addition to the attack on the wing, and Jack Harrison seems to be getting more comfortable with each game in MLS.
Orlando City has had a surprising amount of success in this series so far. What is it about the Lions that has made life so difficult for New York’s blue team?
JG: Each of the last few seasons, Orlando City has been a team with talented and dynamic attacking players. As such, they've been really good at opening up NYC and making them more vulnerable to counterattacks. Cyle Larin especially is a thorn in our side, year-in, year-out. He's constantly getting in behind the defense and opening things up for Orlando's attacking midfielders. Take, for example, Orlando's first goal against New York this season, where Cyle found a tiny bit of space in our back four and finished clinically.
In addition to our struggles to slow down their attack, Orlando has been surprisingly strong at stymieing New York's offense. Orlando has let NYC come to them, and looked to take them on the counter when they turn them over. Credit where credit is due, as old boss Kreis knows the players and has been able to out-fox Patrick Vieira.
That being said, I'm looking forward to see how Orlando defends New York's more cohesive attack this Sunday.
Out of the team’s new additions, which players have lived up to expectations and which haven’t quite panned out yet? And which former player do you think the team misses most?
JG: The new additions, especially the ones that have been looked upon to make an impact, have uniformly performed very well to start the season. I mentioned Ring in the midfield, Callens at CB, Maxi in the 10 role, and Rodney Wallace out wide already, but I left out Sean Johnson, who has been excellent so far in goal. Johnson has organized the team well, been a solid shot stopper and, most importantly, solidified New York in defending the aerial attack of the opposing team (something Josh Saunders struggled mightily with last season). He's been a big contributor to our improved defense so far this season.
It's hard to pick out any new player and say they haven't panned out, since we're only six games in and the squad is healthy and performing well. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Sean Okoli, who came over from Cincinnati and scored in bunches there. I'm also hoping winger Jonathan Lewis, who went No. 3 in the SuperDraft, and promising 19-year old Yangel Herrera, on loan from Manchester City, each have a chance to show what they can do in the first team.
I think New York is going to miss the consistency and durability of Andoni Iraola this year. He'd be playing behind Ring this season no doubt, but he'd be an excellent substitute to shore up the defense and he's capable of playing both fullback and in the midfield.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out Saturday, and what is your projected starting lineup and final score prediction?
JG: Khiry Shelton is going to miss the game with a hamstring problem and Matarrita (ankle) is out, but nothing else beyond that.
Sean Johnson; R.J. Allen, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Ethan White; Maxi Moralez, Alexander Ring, Andrea Pirlo; Rodney Wallace, David Villa, Jack Harrison
New York gets a little revenge at home in an evenly contested match: 2-1 to NYCFC.
Big thanks to Jake from Hudson River Blue for taking time to answer some questions about the Sky Blues.