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Can Orlando City’s Offense Exploit a Depleted D.C. United Defense?

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The Lions have lacked goals lately, but they have a chance to turn it around against D.C. tonight.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Minnesota United FC Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It seemed like a dream start on Saturday night. Orlando City had already peppered the Minnesota United goal with six shots in the first half and in the 39th minute a poor back pass from the Loons set Carlos Rivas free on goal. The Colombian eased past the rest of Minnesota’s defenders, faked out Bobby Shuttleworth, and simply rolled the ball to the far post instead of skying it over the bar.

But it clanked off the post and rebounded harmlessly to a gray shirt. It was yet another missed opportunity for the Lions’ offense, which has only managed four goals in its last six matches. The chances have been there but the finishing has been lacking. It has cost the team points during the miserable month of May, most notably when Cyle Larin failed to find the mark from inches out against Toronto FC and then again on Saturday.

Even though Orlando set a season high in shots, the attack looked disjointed. It’s a trend that City has dealt with all year; if Larin isn’t scoring, no one is. Rivas, for all of the goals he has created for his Canadian strike partner this year, is still more wasteful than not in front of the goalmouth. There is a lack of goal scorers from midfield, especially when Kaká is out due to injury like he will be tonight.

All is not lost for Orlando, though.

If there is any situation where the team’s offense could potentially capitalize, it would be tonight against D.C. United. The visitors will be making their second cross-continent trip of the week after earning three points in Vancouver under dubious circumstances on Saturday night. Jose Guillermo Ortiz’s dive that earned the Black and Red the game-winning penalty also earned the forward a suspension for tonight’s match.

Ortiz won’t be the only one missing for D.C., with Bobby Boswell returning to the capital to prepare for United’s match-up with the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. Starting fullback Sean Franklin is still sidelined with a hamstring injury, so the D.C. defense is depleted and exploitable while already allowing 1.6 goals per game. Steve Birnbaum and Bill Hamid are still available and are fantastic defensively in their own right, but at home in front of the Wall, the Lions have a great opportunity to end May on a high note.

It will likely come down to who can step up in the continued absence of Kaká. Without the club’s second-leading scorer, the offense has noticeably lacked fluidity and someone to step up and be that key centerpiece. Matias Perez Garcia and Giles Barnes have both been deployed at the No. 10 spot but have yet to pull the strings to jump-start the attack.

The most creative player on the team this season has been Rivas, but his inconsistent play has been the savior and the death knell for the Lions. Part of it is a little bit of luck, like a few degrees on his shot against Minnesota; part of it is not trying to be a hero and laying the ball off to his teammates. It’s frustrating for the young player who has Designated Player expectations and has lacked a finished product. When Larin isn’t scoring, there’s an extra sense of urgency, especially with the run of games that the team has had.

Whether or not Orlando can break out of the offensive slump that it’s in will be on the shoulders of the attackers other than Larin, such as Rivas, Barnes, or even Luis Gil — the creators and those that can pull travel-weary and reserve defenders away from Larin and open up space. If the Lions can create the kinds of opportunities they had on Saturday night, chances are they can put them away this time out.