It’s never felt so good to be back home.
Following a pair of games on the road last week, with losses at both Toronto and Houston, Orlando City (6-3-0, 18 points) is back in the friendly confines of Orlando City Stadium as it takes on Sporting Kansas City (5-2-3, 18 points) Saturday night (7 p.m. ET, TV27).
The Lions have dropped two games in a row for the first time this season after losing their two road games in a four-day stretch. The Lions began with a 2-1 loss at Toronto FC, which included a second goal in two games from Kaká, who sat and came off of the bench three days later when the club traveled to BBVA Compass Stadium and was completely dismantled by the Houston Dynamo in a 4-0 defeat.
But Orlando City is ready to get back on track, after a much needed week off. The Lions are gearing up to face a talented Sporting team in a stadium where they have yet to lose a game, opening Orlando City Stadium with a perfect 5-0-0 mark on the season.
Sporting KC, meanwhile, is sitting in a very similar boat as Orlando City. The club comes into the match second in the Western Conference standings with 18 points. Sporting has pulled out four wins from five home contests, including one draw, and is playing its second road match in a row after a 2-0 loss at Minnesota United this past weekend. And both of its two losses have come in the last four games. SKC could use a point or three this weekend, but it won’t be easy playing in one of the loudest venues in MLS.
Listen, there’s nothing to be concerned about. The Lions played three games in eight days, traveled to Toronto and Houston, and ran up against a Dynamo team that was well-rested and has a lot of speedy, dynamic players. They had a very good opportunity to come out of Toronto with at least a point, and Cyle Larin was surely kicking himself over two missed opportunities, but that’s the game, and you move on.
We’ve seen nearly enough of Orlando City at this point that we can get a very good gauge by now on what kind of team the Lions are and are going to be this season, and the team we saw against Houston this past Saturday was not that team. Those games happen.
Anyway, I digress.
We look ahead to Saturday night’s contest now, and the Lions are well-rested and should be at full strength when Jason Kreis makes his final decisions on the starting lineup. Jonathan Spector rested against Houston, and Kreis revealed after the match that he’s been dealing with an ankle injury for the last few weeks. But he should be good to go. Kaká came on as a sub against Houston and should be well rested, as should Cristian Higuita, who played only 19 minutes in the match.
Tommy Redding won’t be with the club through at least the end of the month after leaving to join the United States U-20 team in Japan in preparation for the U-20 World Cup that starts later this month in South Korea. That’s an important loss for the Lions, but Jose Aja, who started and played 90 minutes at Houston for the first time since leaving an early April game against Columbus, is back and should be pairing with Spector. That’s a tandem that was providing very positive results before Aja’s injury.
The headline coming into the weekend for Peter Vermes’ side is the suspended Dom Dwyer, who won’t be able to play again in his “spiritual home” after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season against Minnesota, earning him a one-game suspension. Dwyer is Sporting’s highest goal scorer this season, with five of the team’s 11 goals.
In his place, as our own Guilherme Torres noted this week, Kansas City still possesses a dangerous attack with key pieces such as Designated Player Gerso Fernandes and Colombian Jimmy Medranda. Like Houston and its wingers last week, those guys are going to give Orlando’s fullbacks a challenge throughout the night.
Graham Zusi is playing right back now, but he’s still a threat to move the ball forward and send in chance-creating crosses, as he does best.
Player to Watch:
Benny Feilhaber in 2015 was arguably one of the league’s best attacking midfielders, and even though he was putting up great numbers he didn’t get any USMNT consideration under Jurgen Klinsmann. Feilhaber has regressed a little bit since then, but he’s still a guy to watch and the player you plan against in training because of his ability to find seams and pick perfect passes. Don’t be surprised if he’s a part of a goal for Sporting KC in this one.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, Sporting KC 2
This is going to be a really good contest, and has the potential to produce plenty of goals. But Orlando doesn’t lose at home, and I hope I’m not jinxing them by saying that streak continues.