Going into tonight’s match against the New England Revolution, Orlando City will have to key in on a player that has consistently picked the Lions apart over the last three seasons. But it’s not Kei Kamara, the Sierra Leonean striker who has made his living terrorizing The Wall. Kamara has torched Orlando consistently — including his first-ever MLS hat trick just a few weeks ago in Foxborough — to the tune of six goals and one assist over five matches with both the Columbus Crew and Revolution. He’s still a few paces behind Lee Nguyen.
Nguyen has played in all six matches between the Revs and Lions and has consistently carved Orlando up. With one goal and an astonishing nine assists, Lee has terrorized City’s defenders over the last three years. Even if you take away the dubious penalty in the wild 2-2 draw back in April 2016, Nguyen has been one of the most threatening players the Lions have consistently come across.
Orlando has won just once against the Revolution over the past three years and Nguyen was held in check with just a single created chance and two forward passes completed in the final third. When Lee is held out of the box score, Orlando is 1-0-1.
The biggest concern for Orlando is that the Lions don’t have a player truly capable of manning the middle of the park and holding down the midfield. With Cristian Higuita out again with a calf injury, it will be up to Dillon Powers or Antonio Nocerino to hold down the fort. The combination of holding midfielders — including Servando Carrasco — has struggled to add the same defensive steel. Orlando has allowed six goals over the past two games to very good offenses and the Revs have all of that same firepower. With Kamara, Nguyen, Krisztian Nemeth, Diego Fagundez, and Teal Bunbury at its disposal, New England can’t even fit all of their talent into a starting lineup.
With Jonathan Spector on suspension, Orlando is left in a similar situation to its 4-0 drubbing a few weeks back when Jose Aja and Leo Pereira were rolled. Jason Kreis has some options with Tommy Redding available and Seb Hines back in the mix, but with attacking talent across the field it will be down to the midfield to prevent Nguyen from feeding those attackers.
At the beginning of the month, Nguyen was mobile and popped up in pockets left, right, and centrally to cause Orlando problems. If not for video review, he would have also had a goal to add to his tally. He jump-starts New England’s offense, getting Revs attackers into space to do what they do best. He may not have the eye-catching passes that strikers just have to tap in, but he pulls the right strings to bypass defenders. Nguyen doesn’t have to do too much because the talent around him is that good and especially without Spector, Orlando is likely to lose any duels one on one.
So the answer is to stop the service, which means stopping Nguyen.
City struggled with Miguel Almiron and Diego Valeri in recent weeks, who are a half step above Nguyen, but similar play-makers. They ran riot over Dillon Powers at the base of the diamond and Nguyen coasted by him on the way to the Revs’ fourth and final goal last time out; perhaps it’s best if Nocerino takes up that role again to cut off the passing lanes and prevent Nemeth, Kamara, and Agudelo from receiving the ball.
Kreis’ personnel decisions will be interesting with the Lions’ playoff hopes all but officially extinguished. Tony Rocha and Richie Laryea could be in line for playing time in the center of the park to cut their teeth against one of the more talented attacks in MLS. But if Orlando wants a win, the Lions will need to plan around stopping Nguyen from continuing his streak of tearing them apart.