Baseball is back! ...sorry, sorry, wrong blog preview.
Orlando City is back — after a few days off! Okay, that’s better.
Coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew at Mapfre Stadium this past weekend, the Lions return to the field looking to rebound in a clash against the New York Red Bulls (2-2-1, 7 points). New York comes to town for a Sunday matinee at Orlando City Stadium.
Orlando City (2-1-0, 6 points) didn’t find the result it was looking for in Ohio, giving up a pair of goals to Justin Meram and losing Jose Aja for at least two to four weeks, as the club dropped its first points in three matches this season.
But the Lions are back in Orlando, in the comfort of their beautiful new ballpark, gearing up for their sixth all-time match-up against the Red Bulls. New York has taken three of the past five games (3-1-1 overall) of the series, including two of last season’s three meetings. The most recent meeting between the two resulted in a 2-0 win for the Red Bulls in New Jersey on July 13, the first game after Adrian Heath’s dismissal.
For the Red Bulls, after a pair of wins to open the new season, they’ve struggled to find points — and goals — in each of their last three games, with a scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake wedged in the middle of losses against Seattle and Houston. New York has scored just four goals this season — two from Bradley Wright-Phillips — and is coming off of a 4-1 loss at the Houston Dynamo.
The points are there for the taking for Orlando City.
The Lions are undefeated in their new home this season, with a pair of wins to open the building, and they’ll be in a good position to pick up their third win on Sunday against a reeling Red Bulls side.
Jose Aja, as I mentioned above, will be sidelined for the next couple of weeks with a hamstring strain, the club announced this week, meaning we’ll almost certainly see Tommy Redding slide into his spot and make his first start of the season. Redding missed almost the entire preseason while captaining the United States U-20 side in the CONCACAF Championship, helping his nation secure a spot in the U-20 World Cup. Redding looked great in that tournament, but came back to Orlando on the outside looking in at the center back spot with Aja and Jonathan Spector playing lights out ball on the back line.
But with Aja going down, this’ll be Redding’s moment to step up and continue the strong play that we not only saw with the U-20 side but with the Lions last season.
Additionally on the back line, Scott Sutter, fresh off his debut last Saturday against Columbus, could make his first start with the club as well. Sutter came on as a sub for Matias Perez Garcia late in the match and looked okay in his debut. Eyes will certainly be on him as Jason Kreis possibly deploys a true right back for the first time this season, giving him the ability to move Will Johnson back into the midfield.
That’ll be a huge plus for the Lions. Johnson played well as right back, but his true value to this club will come in the midfield, where Kreis sees him as a key piece — potentially deep, potentially on the left side. An incredibly versatile midfielder, Johnson can play just about anywhere and be effective.
Elsewhere on the pitch, I don’t see many changes happening. Servando Carrasco likely hits the bench to make way for Johnson. Kreis probably sticks with the same flat 4-4-2 we’ve seen through the first three games. Getting a good outing from Perez Garcia will be important for the Lions in this one, too.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls are struggling, and Orlando City is getting them at a perfect time early in the season, but that doesn’t mean the three points are guaranteed.
Bradley Wright-Phillips just signed a new DP contract with the club, and he’ll always be a dangerous player up top for Jesse Marsch’s side. With two goals already this season, he’s shown he can find the net in 2017, and with a new center back duo lining up for Orlando, he’ll look to pounce and catch the back line off guard.
And don’t forget about Sacha Kljestan. Definitely do not forget about Sacha Kljestan, who has been arguably the best attacking midfielder in MLS over the past year. He knows how to pick apart a defense and find his teammates with great balls past defenders. I can already see Kljestan-Johnson being a great match-up to watch.
The Red Bulls expect Aurelien Collin and Connor Lade to be healthy and available for the match. Those two are important players on the back line for Marsch, who will need both of them to have great games Sunday.
Player to Watch:
It’s Kljestan, obviously. Like I said, he’s one of the best in the league at what he does, and I don’t think Orlando City is going to give him much space any time he’s on the ball, and if the club does give him space, it’ll be in trouble.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, New York Red Bulls 1.
The Lions will be hungry for redemption following Saturday’s loss at Columbus. New York is struggling and coming into Orlando City Stadium with the weather getting warmer is not going to help them much. Carlos Rivas finds his first goal of the year, Cyle Larin adds another, and Aurelien Collin bags an own goal, just because. Book it.