Hardly 72 hours after falling to Toronto FC on Wednesday night, Orlando City (6-2-0, 18 points) will hit the pitch again on Saturday when the Lions travel to BBVA Compass Stadium for a cross-conference match-up with the Houston Dynamo (4-3-1, 13 points).
Orlando City has seen the Dynamo just twice in its short MLS existence, but actually have Houston to thank for a bit of history. The Lions’ first win in MLS was a 1-0 victory over the Dynamo in their first ever road match way back in March of 2015, thanks to a Tyler Deric own-goal. These two sides met last season in Orlando for the first time, playing to a scoreless draw in the first game after Adrian Heath was fired by the club.
Now, the Lions return to Houston looking for another big road victory after failing to mount a comeback in a 2-1 loss to Toronto at BMO Field. Kaká scored his second goal in as many games, but the Lions couldn’t overcome a pair of first-half goals from Sebastian Giovinco and ultimately dropped their second game of the season — both on the road.
Houston, meanwhile, is seeing some early success under new head coach Wilmer Cabrera, as the Dynamo come into the match sitting fourth in the Western Conference standings and are a nifty 4-0-1 in the confines of BBVA Compass Stadium. Their struggles have come mostly on the road, including a 2-0 loss at, surprise, Toronto last weekend, broken down by a Jozy Altidore brace.
This is a game that Orlando can certainly take points away from, but it will by no means be an easy game.
Illness and a calf injury kept Will Johnson and Antonio Nocerino out of Wednesday’s 18-man lineup against Toronto, respectively, and all eyes will be on those two and whether or not they’ll be good to go against Houston on Saturday night. Both had played in all of Orlando’s first seven games up until that point, and you could see just how much they both meant to the team by being out.
This weekend’s lineup is a little tougher for me to predict than other games because Orlando is now playing its third game in just eight days, with over a couple thousand miles of travel in between. This means there are certainly a lot of tired legs on the squad right now, and Jason Kreis will surely be looking to rest some of those players coming into another hot environment in Houston.
Orlando can’t necessarily afford to play without Cyle Larin, but I don’t think it hurts them to start Larin off on the bench and use him as a super sub late in the match to hopefully catch some tired Dynamo legs napping for a late goal, if needed. I would think we’ll see Giles Barnes start somewhere against his old team, possibly up top in Larin’s place.
On the back line, both Jonathan Spector and Donny Toia have played every game this season. Spector, specifically, has played a ton over the last several months, including his time in England, and could benefit from getting the night off. With Jose Aja fit again, it wouldn’t hurt the club too much to pair him with Tommy Redding, although I’m far more wary of benching Spector for the night if neither Johnson or Nocerino can go because of the vocal leadership that those three bring to the squad.
Only two teams in MLS have scored more goals than the Dynamo this season — and they both poured on goals against Minnesota United early in the campaign. The offensive charge has been headlined by the revival of Mexican striker Erick “Cubo” Torres, who has completely turned things around in Houston under Cabrera, with seven goals this season.
Houston started the season playing in a 4-3-3 shape, but have recently switched things up to play the same style of 4-4-2 diamond that Orlando City uses, even though it didn’t work out too well against Toronto, which took full advantage of Houston’s defensive-minded setup and controlled play and created a load of chances.
While there’s a chance that Houston could switch back to the 4-3-3, it looks like they might stick with the diamond.
Other positive news for Houston fans would be that Ricardo Clark could be nearing a return this weekend from an adductor injury. He’s been listed as probable for the match, and, if anything, might step on to the pitch.
Player to Watch For
Cubo only got two touches on the ball in Toronto’s penalty area last weekend, which is a pretty terrible night given the season the young striker is having. If Orlando can replicate that same kind of success and keep Torres away from the ball in dangerous areas, the Lions have a very good chance at keeping Houston off of the score sheet.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Houston Dynamo 1
I like Orlando’s chances in the match, but playing against a Houston team that’s not only good at home, but didn’t just play a midweek game on the road is a big disadvantage, no matter how well the team is playing. Getting a point out of this match is still very good on the young season.