Well, in the D.C. United match preview earlier this year, we were drooling at the opportunity for Orlando City to bounce back against the Eastern Conference’s worst team. This time around, we’re just hoping we don’t become the new worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off of an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to the New England Revolution last week, the playoffs are well out of reach for Orlando City (8-7-12, 31 points). But the team will try and reclaim some dignity this week as it continues its four-game road trip with a visit to RFK Stadium (7 p.m. ET, TV27).
Luckily for the Lions, their opponent is D.C. United (8-4-15, 28 points), one of the only two teams that Orlando City has won against in the past 20 matches. But this game is far from a cake walk as United comes into the game on a hot streak with three straight 1-0 wins, including recent back-to-back home wins over both Atlanta United and the Revolution.
When these two teams met earlier this May, Orlando beat United 2-0 at Orlando City Stadium and put an end to a six-game winless streak, which was the longest such streak in club history since joining Major League Soccer. Or at least it was until Orlando’s current eight-game winless streak. Hopefully, the club can use United to bounce back once more
The Lions will be without Will Johnson, who was arrested on domestic violence charges Wednesday, Fortunately for the Lions, they have many options to fill the void left by Johnson. After missing last week’s game due to yellow card accumulation, Cristian Higuita should suit up Saturday to give Orlando a needed defensive presence in the center of the pitch. Also likely to return to the starting lineup is summer transfer Yoshimar Yotun, who shook off nagging back ailments and played in Peru’s World Cup qualifier against Ecuador this past Tuesday.
Up top, Dwyer is still looking for his first goal as a Lion after a six-game scoring drought. He’ll be accompanied by Larin, who had to miss last week after being called up to serve his country.
While the rest of the team has available replacements, the defensive line is looking bare. Scott Sutter and Donny Toia are both likely to start, but keep a close eye on the center back situation. Jonathan Spector is still out despite surpassing the original timetable of recovery for his injured knee and Jose Aja will miss the game as well after two yellow cards in last week’s game. Tommy Redding and Leo Pereira will need to step up in a big way to protect Joe Bendik and we can expect to see Seb Hines off the bench if things go south.
With Yotun, Kaká, Dwyer, Larin, and Barnes, there is no reason Orlando should struggle in the final third. But I’m sure the Lions will find a way.
Sure, D.C. United’s three-game win streak may be bolstered by some lucky breaks, two 1-0 wins thanks to own goals, but this team is playing with a lot of grit and hustle despite being well out of the playoff hunt.
United may not score a lot of goals but the defense has been stifling to say the least. United has only allowed one goal in the past five games (Orlando has allowed 12 goals in that same span), and last week the Revolution couldn’t get a shot on target until the 50th minute.
Ben Olsen has been able to turn things around by injecting young talent into the squad. Jalen Robinson, a 23-year old fourth-year Homegrown pro, has given life to a back line that looked sluggish earlier this year. And on the attacking side of the ball, Luciana Acosta and summer signing Paul Arriola are the face of the attack but guys like Lloyd Sam and Zoltan Steiber are on hand to galvanize the team and keep the ball moving until passing lanes open. United may not have much to play for this season, but it has plenty to look forward to in 2018.
Player to Watch For
If this were Gavin writing the preview, I’m sure he would declare Acosta as his player to watch for as he leads the team in both goals (5) and shots (38). However, Gavin’s not writing this preview and I’m going to name Zoltan Steiber as the talent to keep an eye on. The quick Hungarian left winger had his MLS debut last week where he put in 80 minutes of work and gave the Revolution headaches. With incredible vision and pace, the back line will have its hands full with Steiber.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, D.C. United 1
I think this is the game where Dom finally finds the back of the net, thanks to a brilliant ball by Yoshi. But the United offense will outwork and pick apart Orlando City’s center backs to level it at some point. Maybe Hines comes on, gives Orlando some height and scores on a header to win it late.
Stay safe this weekend with the hurricane! Go Lions!