Technically, I don’t think stadium security will let you bring brooms into Orlando City Stadium, but it’s time to bust them out because New York City FC (5-4-2, 17 points) is coming to town to meet up with Orlando City (6-3-2, 20 points) for the third and final meeting between the two clubs on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, FS1).
The Lions have taken all three points in each of the first two meetings with NYCFC this season, pulling out a 1-0 victory on opening day, and then going to Yankee Stadium last month and outplaying NYC to a 2-1 win.
Orlando hasn’t lost a game to NYCFC since 2015, and has taken five of the last six match-ups. Rivalry? Sure.
Orlando City is coming into the game off of a 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium on Wednesday night. The Lions used a late second-half goal from Carlos Rivas to take the lead, but Chris Wondolowski struck back moments later to steal two points and hand the Lions their second consecutive draw.
With Orlando taking just two points from the last four games, Sunday’s match will be an important opportunity to jump out of the funk and grab all three points — which the Lions will need to keep pace with the streaking Toronto FC.
Jason Kreis changed things up in San Jose, opting to leave Kaká, Carlos Rivas, Antonio Nocerino, Donny Toia, and Cristian Higuita all on the bench, and Jonathan Spector was out of the team sheet altogether due to illness. That means a good chunk of the squad will be better rested when the Lions show up to the field on Sunday.
And with that, I would expect the Lions to return to their 4-4-2 diamond ways. That would mean Spector and Jose Aja paired together, Toia back at left back, and Kaká back at the top of the diamond behind Rivas and Cyle Larin up top. Higuita and Nocerino likely take their spots back in the starting lineup, replacing Servando Carrasco and Luis Gil.
Nothing too wild, just the same formula that has brought Orlando City considerably great success to this point.
New York City FC
NYCFC also played on the road far away from home on Wednesday night, going into Rio Tinto Stadium and falling to Real Salt Lake, 2-1. That loss came after playing Sunday night in a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas, and now the club continues its road trip and wraps things up with its third game in eight days on the road at Orlando City Stadium.
Sunday’s match-up will be a fun one to watch not only because of David Villa and Jack Harrison going up against Jonathan Spector and Donny Toia, but because it creates the battles of Orlando’s best front men going up against Maxime Chanot, one of the league’s best center backs this season.
Like Orlando, NYCFC has fielded a strong defense this season, and Chanot has been a big part of that. The club has, however, given up three of its 13 conceded goals this season to Orlando. Stopping Larin will be the task at hand for Chanot and the rest of the NYCFC defense.
Player to Watch For
Villa would seem like the obvious choice for this spot, but I’m going to shift the focus over to his right and tell you to keep your eyes on Jack Harrison. The last time Orlando faced NYCFC, in Yankee Stadium, Harrison spent 90 minute strongly pressuring Toia down the right side, constantly challenging him inside the penalty area. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Patrick Vieira go for that strategy again on Sunday and hope that Toia, who has struggled a little bit lately, has another tough day in the office.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, New York City FC 1
The sweep happens. Orlando breaks out of its funk. Antonio Nocerino finally scores his first goal in Orlando. It’s going to happen, I promise. I mean, it has to eventually, right?