[cracks fingers, stretches neck, takes a sip of very cheap wine then blows off keyboard]
Hello again, everybody! After a couple of weeks away from the keyboards while I sorted out my laptop situation, I’m happy to say that I’m back at it again with your Orlando City game previews and much more Lions coverage here at The Mane Land. First and foremost, I would like to thank Austin David for keeping my seat warm and handling things in the preview department while I was away.
Now, back to business.
Hardly three days after stealing a point at the death in Seattle, Orlando City will be back in action once again for the second game of a three-game road swing. The Lions will have their second meeting of the month with the Chicago Fire on Saturday night at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m. ET, TV27).
The Lions (7-5-5, 26 points) kicked off their trip late Wednesday night (on the east coast) with a thrilling 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. Scott Sutter’s headed goal on a Kaká free kick in stoppage time — the final kick of the match — was all the club needed to pull off what felt like a shocking upset.
Sutter’s first goal with Orlando City was a big one. It was the fourth goal in two games now without star forward Cyle Larin, who is still out of action while going through the MLS Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Jason Kreis will need his squad to step up again to take more points away from Chicago, which boasts the second-best goals-against total in the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of the Fire (9-3-4, 31 points), they continued their hot start to the season last Saturday night with a 2-1 road win over the New England Revolution. So not only are they in good form, having won five of their last six games and going unbeaten in eight straight (6-0-2), but they’re also well-rested and ready to defend their home turf. Three points, let alone one, will not be easy for Orlando City.
As you may remember, because it only happened a couple of weeks ago, these two teams last met on June 4. Orlando City had a pair of players sent off by referee Ted Unkel but managed to survive the match for a scoreless draw. All-time, the Lions have never lost to Chicago in MLS play with two wins and four draws in six matches, including a 2-0-1 record at Toyota Park.
Kreis pretty much went all-in on Wednesday night, playing a full-strength lineup against Seattle, which makes things more interesting as the team heads into Saturday night’s road contest on just two days of rest and thousands of flying miles on the odometer in such a short time. This is also the third game in eight days, so legs are surely tired.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kaká, who played the full 90+ minutes on Wednesday, on the bench when the lineup is released. Will Johnson, who only played in the last 20 minutes, seems sure to be back in the starting lineup, and you could probably bet on seeing Matias Perez Garcia again after coming off 64 minutes into the Seattle game, and with his contract set to expire at the end of the month, I imagine he’ll be looking to prove himself as he battles for an extension with the club.
Kreis gave Rafael Ramos his first start of the season against the Fire when they first came to Orlando earlier in the month. The start was cut short when he was shown red less than 30 minutes into the match. Maybe Kreis likes that match-up against Chicago enough to give Ramos another start at right back.
The second-place Fire are unbeaten in their last eight games, and the last team they dropped points to during the run was Orlando in the scoreless draw on June 4. Undefeated in eight games at Toyota Park this season (7-0-1), the Fire have had one of the best attacks in the league in 2017, led by Golden Boot leader Nemanja Nikolic, who has 13 goals this season, and the speedy David Accam, who comes in with seven. Also not to be overlooked is one of Nikolic’s key partners up top, Luis Solignac, who has four goals to add to three assists.
There is, however, some controversy surrounding the team and Accam. He hasn’t dressed in either of the club’s last two games, and while the club says he’s been dealing with a lingering injury, there has been speculation that he’s been overseas negotiating a potential transfer out of MLS. So there is a good chance he doesn’t dress against Orlando as well.
The Fire also have this guy named Bastian Schweinsteiger roaming in the midfield with Dax McCarty, who is back after missing the last meeting with Orlando due to national team duties with the United States.
Player to Watch For
Even while down to 10 and eventually nine men for the match, Orlando was successful the last time around in keeping the Fire off the board. But that doesn’t mean anything heading into this one. Nikolic is still a man to watch out for as one of the most dangerous strikers in the league this year. All it takes is one moment for him to slip through the defense and beat Joe Bendik.
Prediction: Orlando City 0, Chicago Fire 2
All of the advantages lean towards the Fire in this. They’re at home, they’re well-rested, and Orlando City is neither of those things right now. Here’s to hoping for the best possible outcome, however.