Can you feel it? There’s a vibe in the air throughout the streets of Parramore. It’s a vibe that hasn’t been felt in quite some time. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s Orlando City.
The team with the brand new ballpark in Major League Soccer returns home following a successful business trip to New York, as Orlando City hosts the Colorado Rapids tomorrow at Orlando City Stadium (3:55 p.m., UniMas and Facebook Live).
The Lions (5-1-0, 15 points) are off to their best start in MLS history, and are currently enjoying one of the nicest views you can find in the league standings, as they sit atop the Eastern Conference heading into the final weekend of April.
While much applause has been thrown the way of Jason Kreis, whose off-season moves and coaching formula have helped turn Orlando into an early-season title contender, Cyle Larin deserves a lot of that credit as well. The Canadian striker has six goals through six games, including a brace against New York City FC last weekend to help the Lions capture a 2-1 victory at Yankee Stadium, the club’s biggest win of the year to date.
On the other side of the ball, you have the Rapids (1-4-1, 4 points), who come into the match second to last in Major League Soccer in total points — ahead of only the Philadelphia Union. For a playoff team that was, for much of 2016, one of the best teams in MLS and finished second in the Supporters’ Shield race, the Rapids sure have taken a turn for the worse so far in the new campaign, having lost three straight and four of their last five matches overall.
Their most recent defeat came at the hands of Minnesota United, which took all three points in a 1-0 victory over Colorado last weekend.
All-time against Colorado, Orlando City has the upper hand in the series (1-0-1). Orlando defeated the Rapids at the Citrus Bowl in 2015, 2-0, and just last season went into Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and pulled out a scoreless draw in one of Kreis’ first games with the club.
The Lions are flying mighty right now, as they come into Orlando City Stadium this weekend undefeated through their first four games at the new park — becoming the first MLS team in history to win its first four games to open a new stadium. And as I mentioned above, Larin has continued his historic scoring pace.
But Orlando City has done far more than just rely on Larin and the new stadium to win points. The team has learned to defend, and has done a pretty good job so far by allowing just five goals in six games, which is, surprise, the best mark in the East and third-best in MLS. This is even more impressive when considering Orlando City let in more goals than anybody else last season.
Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia, and Scott Sutter have all been excellent additions. Tommy Redding and Jose Aja have also been very good on the back line. Elsewhere, Will Johnson is showing why Kreis trusts him so much, and Antonio Nocerino, too.
And all of this, might I add, has been done without the presence of Brazilian midfielder Kaká, who could return to the team sheet for the first time since injuring his hamstring eight minutes into the club’s season-opening match against NYCFC back on March 5.
And then there are the Rapids, who come into the game with the lowest scoring offense in MLS, with just five total goals through their first six games. They come into a tough building against a tough defense looking to end their misery with something other than a loss against Orlando.
Colorado didn’t look totally bad though in their recent losses to Real Salt Lake and Minnesota, and it should be noted the Rapids played both of those matches without a handful of regulars, including Tim Howard. The American goalkeeper will serve the third and final game of his three-game suspension handed down by MLS earlier this month in relation to a fan altercation after a match in Kansas City. But that doesn’t really matter here, because Zac MacMath, who was playing really well in 2016 before Howard showed up, was really good again last weekend in Minnesota.
Colorado still has some good players on the roster — like Dillon Serna, Axel Sjoberg, Shkelzen Gashi — but have seen many of their better players fail to produce early on in the season. They’re going to need a good outing from all 11 men to take down the Lions on Saturday.
Player to Watch For
I’ll say keep an eye on Mohammed Saied. Pablo Mastroeni moved him into the No. 10 role against Minnesota and he excelled there with a dynamic presence throughout the match in Colorado’s attack. He has a much tougher defense to navigate this week, of course, but if Pablo runs with the same game plan, it should be something to watch for in the final third.
Prediction: Orlando City 4, Colorado Rapids 0
Yes, the win over NYCFC last weekend was big, but we still haven’t seen that convincing, blowing a team out of the water game yet for Orlando City this year — and yes, I know it’s been early, but all of their games, sans Columbus, have been close. I think this is the weekend we finally get something to really celebrate for 90 minutes.