Orlando City meets the New York Red Bulls this Sunday with both teams in a similar position at this early stage of the 2017 season. Orlando and the Red Bulls sit in fifth and fourth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. Both will be searching for a good result after dropping a road game last weekend. The match is poised as a decisive one for both clubs.
Will Orlando Finally Find its Offensive Rhythm?
OCSC has managed three goals in three games this season. That’s not exactly the kind of start many fans were imagining when the team lined up with Kaká, Cyle Larin, and Carlos Rivas a little over a month ago. A few members of the club have mentioned the slow start while being happy with the results so far, but that mantra can only survive for so long. True, sport sages often talk about how great teams need to be able to win ugly. But a more pessimistic view of Orlando’s offensive start suggests that the team may struggle to score goals this season.
On the other hand, OCSC at times feels like a team on the cusp of a breakout game. It’s just a matter of time before players like Giles Barnes, Rivas, and Matias Perez Garcia start pitching in a few goals to support Larin. Barnes is a proven MLS goal scorer and has looked positive and creative in the first three games. We know that MPG can finish even though he is a more natural creator for others. Not to mention, Rivas has run at defenses all season without getting a goal he deserves; he’s looked dangerous and menacing, but the final touch has eluded him.
Orlando’s newest player may get a chance to impress this weekend as well. Orlando added Luis Gil this week as another attacking option. Gil appears to be a bit of a wild card and is a player in need of some regular games after a disappointing time in Mexico. He enjoyed some success Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake a few years ago. The question now is whether he can rekindle that old form with his new opportunity while in Orlando. Depending on what the game dictates, we could see Gil make his debut in purple tomorrow. Gil offers Kreis an offensive spark off the bench, which the team has lacked since Kaka’s injury.
How Will the Defense Respond to Losing Aja?
José Aja put together a very solid start to the season before exiting Saturday’s contest in Columbus. The Uruguayan developed a nice partnership with Jonathan Spector in a short period of time. It looks like Spector’s new partner will be Tommy Redding for the next few weeks until Aja is ready for action. Redding will be tested this week with wily veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips leading the Red Bulls’ line against the Lions. Redding and Spector will need to develop an understanding rather quickly so as not to lose sight of a poacher like Wright-Phillips.
Another player to watch on Sunday is Scott Sutter. The Swiss made his debut last weekend as a 71st minute substitute. Kreis can potentially relieve Will Johnson from his role as emergency right back, which would mean two changes to the back line. Sutter admitted fault in Columbus’ second goal last weekend, and Kreis was critical of the play involving Sutter. There is a chance that Kreis chooses to keep Johnson in the back, at least from the start, and bring Sutter on in the second half, but Kreis will want to find a solution to OCSC’s right back position before long.
Can the Lions Keep the Streak Alive?
When club officials and players talked about the new stadium this preseason, it was often followed with a comment about the importance of building a home field advantage. Home results are vital in MLS, especially with the parity that exists in the league and the long, grueling away trips, which are unlike those in most professional leagues in Europe or South America. OCSC has lived up to that goal so far this season, gaining full points at home. The team found a way to muster a narrow victory in the opener against NYCFC, and seemed more confident in the second home victory over Philadelphia.
It would be nice to see the team continue to improve with another win in front of the home faithful. Away losses and draws are forgivable and road wins are difficult to come by in MLS. But if Orlando is playoff bound this year, it will need to consistently claim all three points at home.
Sunday’s game offers a test of Orlando’s resolve after an uninspiring defeat last time out. OCSC will need to create more chances than it has in the previous three games while helping Larin with the goal-scoring load. The effectiveness of the new-look back four will be tested as well. And fans will have a better idea if Orlando is indeed becoming a team with a home field advantage.