A lot has happened since the last time that Orlando City last took the field: Katy Perry announced her next album and a tour stop in Orlando; the president did something that made a lot of people upset; the NWSL’s non-allocated players formed a players’ union; and Derek Jeter’s No. 2 was retired by the New York Yankees, to leave out a very large handful of things that also happened.
Wait...it’s only been three days since Orlando City last took the field? Oh!
Well the Lions (6-3-1, 19 points) are back at it again, this time as they travel across the country for a meeting with the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium this evening (10:30 p.m. ET, TV27).
With just a week off after a run of three games in eight days, Orlando kicked off its second crowded fixture schedule — this time a span of three games in nine days — over the weekend with a 2-2 draw at home against Sporting Kansas City. It was the first non-win at Orlando City Stadium in six games this season. Cyle Larin scored his seventh goal of the season, breaking a three-game scoreless streak, while Kaká also added a goal, his third of the season since returning from a hamstring injury four games ago, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Kansas City, which scored late in the second half to level and leave town with a well-deserved point in hand.
You could argue that the Lions are in somewhat of a skid right now, having captured just one point from their last three games after getting off to one of the hottest starts in MLS history through their first seven games. The defense has let in eight goals over these past three games, but the club doesn’t see it as anything to worry about moving forward.
“I think occasionally you can over-stress what your team does wrong and under-stress what opponents do well,” Jason Kreis said after the Sporting KC match. “From my opinion, we’re still seeing a lot of the fundamentals defensively that we want to have happen, probably a little bit unlucky tonight with the two goals against us, but as long as we’re working the right way I can’t get too bogged down with those statistics.”
As for San Jose, they’ll be looking for redemption after going on the road to Colorado and letting in three goals as they were shut out by the Rapids, 3-0. The Quakes (4-4-3, 15 points) are sitting in a playoff spot as we speak, and much like a lot of other teams in the league, they’re undefeated at home this season, with three wins and two draws in five games in their third season at Avaya Stadium.
All-time, neither team has been able to gain an edge between the two clubs: Orlando City traveled to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2015 and played the Earthquakes to a 1-1 draw, despite being down a man for more than half the match due to Brek Shea’s red card. And just last season, the Quakes came to Orlando and Camping World Stadium and finished 2-2 on a very late equalizing goal from San Jose.
Just as they did in Toronto and Houston earlier this month, the Lions face a tough task when heading to San Jose. The Lions did, at least, charter a plane to California, and will fly back immediately after the match, but it’s still not easy for any team to jump on a plane, fly across the country, and play a soccer match a day and a half later. But that’s what the Lions will be doing and, regardless of the travel, they expect to show up at the stadium ready to play and leave with three points.
The club went through a stretch like this just recently, and see it as an opportunity to focus on what was done wrong and to do things differently with the game at San Jose and then again in Orlando against New York City FC on Sunday.
“I think we have to look at what we can do differently, whether that’s rotating more players, whether that’s staying with the same lineup in all three games, I think we have to think of those things,” Kreis said Saturday night. “As far as the tactical preparation, there’s not much more that we can do. We did everything we could. Again, for me, the Houston game was a poor performance, the Toronto game was a really good performance, really positive performance. Obviously a result we didn’t want, but still a positive performance.”
Jumping off that point, it does seem probable that some key players will get rotated out to keep the legs fresh for New York over the weekend. That would mean guys like Matias Perez Garcia and Luis Gil possibly getting in the lineup. Giles Barnes, of course, could see significant minutes again. With Tommy Redding now gone with the U.S. U-20s, the Lions are a looking a little thin at center back. Jose Aja has played 90 minutes in back-to-back games since returning from an injury, so I think it’s possible he sits on the bench for this one, even for someone like Leo Pereira, who hasn’t appeared for the club yet despite featuring on the bench on multiple occasions now.
San Jose Earthquakes
This match-up has the potential to deliver a couple of fun moments. For starters, it’ll be Matias Perez Garcia’s first trip back to San Jose since he was traded to Orlando last season. The Argentine midfielder logged over 2,000 minutes for the Quakes from 2014 to 2016, but even though he was marked as a Designated Player with tons of potential, he never quite found his place in San Jose, thus was sent to Orlando City in exchange for Darwin Cerén, another former Lion who was among the big-time fan favorites since he joined the team during its USL days in 2014.
Cerén was among the best defensive midfielders in the league in 2015, but struggled with a couple of injuries in 2016 and eventually fell out of favor when Kreis took over the squad. The defensive midfield was already a deep position for Orlando, and Kreis had no problem moving Cerén for an offensive player. It’s worked out for Orlando, while Cerén has struggled to capture that same top form for the Quakes.
The Earthquakes do have a host of scoring options to look out for throughout the match, including — of course — USMNT regular Chris Wondolowski, who is having a successful season to this point with four goals and five assists to his credit. Midfielder Jahmir Hyka is another player to watch. He has two goals and three assists, and can create some havoc for Orlando’s defensive midfielders.
Player to Watch For
Chris Wondolowski may seem like he’s been around for the longest of times, but that hasn’t stopped him from still being one of the most productive MLS players of all time. San Jose plays mostly in a 4-3-3 with Wondo deployed as the right winger up top, but that still keeps him lurking around goal, ready to pounce on the ball and take his shot. It’s what he does best, and it’s been an effective tactic since 2005.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, San Jose Earthquakes 3
Both of these teams are playing on short rest. San Jose is coming off a bad loss, and Orlando is going to be looking for a big game and three points. Following the upward trend of goals between the teams in their meetings, a 3-3 draw is the obvious outcome.