The month of May is finally over and Orlando City is back to its winning ways.
After going 0-4-2 through their first six games in the month, the Lions managed to pull out a 2-0 win on the last day of May against D.C. United. There’s no rest for the team, however, as Orlando now must host a Chicago Fire team that currently sits in second in the Eastern Conference. This game on Sunday will mark the second of three straight MLS games and four in all competitions at Orlando City Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, TV27).
Orlando City (7-5-2, 23 points) still remains in the top half of the Eastern Conference despite its down month, while the Fire (7-3-3, 24 points) sit just one point ahead of the Lions with a game in hand.
Sunday’s match starts a month of June that has Orlando playing three of its next five league away from home, including another game against the Fire on June 24 out in Bridgeview, IL.
Chicago’s most recent form has been a bit surprising, considering the team's last few years of mediocrity. But with signings like local Winter Park product Dax McCarty, MLS goal leader Nemanja Nikolic, and German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Fire are a solid team once again.
Their most recent 2-1 win over FC Dallas marked Chicago’s fourth straight victory, a feat the club hasn’t accomplished since September of 2012. The Fire are also coming into this game well rested, having not played since last Thursday, May 25.
The Lions’ win showed a bit of a renewal in the attack. Missing Kaká for the second straight game, the team managed to find the back of the net twice in the second half, with Cyle Larin scoring his eighth goal of the season.
Jason Kreis stuck with the flat 4-4-2 formation for the second straight match. Unlike Minnesota, the game changed with Giles Barnes coming into the match and providing a spark on offense. With the Lions scoring the first goal, they were able to settle into the game a bit more and play with the lead.
Coming into this one fresh off a midweek game, I would assume Antonio Nocerino comes back into the starting lineup, while Luis Gil heads to the bench. In addition, Kaká returned to training this week and could either start or come off the bench. I would lobby for Barnes to crack the starting XI, but with the pace of Chicago’s wingers as a constant threat, I would say he would be good as a second half substitute instead, while the team starts off in a more defensive look.
This Fire squad was incredibly hot in the month of May. After a 2-2 draw with the Galaxy, Chicago has rattled off four straight wins against Seattle, Colorado, D.C. and Dallas. Similarly to Orlando, most of their wins have come at home, while their win at RFK Stadium in D.C. was Chicago’s first and only away victory.
Fire captain and local boy McCarty will miss this match due to a USMNT call-up, so MLS veteran Juninho will most likely take his spot in the lineup.
Chicago has very dangerous attacking players with Nemanja Nikolic, David Accam and Luis Solignac leading the front line. Nikolic leads MLS in goals, with 11, and Accam is second on the team with seven, six of them coming in May. They also have players like Arturo Alvarez and Michael de Leeuw, who have a proven scoring ability and can be very dangerous.
Player to Watch For
Arguably one of the most surprising off-season moves that has paid dividends for a team has been Nikolic of the Fire, who leads all of MLS in goals scored. However, the most in-form player and one that will — and has — given Orlando fits on defense is Accam. His pace is an absolute game changer, and with six goals and two assists in his last six games, he will be a very dangerous asset for the Fire.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Chicago 1
Orlando is coming off a rough and rainy midweek victory and Chicago hasn’t played since May 25. The Fire have only won one away game this season and, like most MLS teams, struggle on the road. However, Orlando will be a bit tired from Wednesday’s game, which could give Chicago the upper hand.