We’re already on Week 3 of the MLS season. After losing points to Minnesota United in Adrian Heath’s return to Orlando, Orlando City begins this week planning for the first away trip of the season. The destination is New York City to play NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on one of the most talked about pitches in MLS.
It’s talked about not because of anything other than size — it is the smallest pitch in MLS, and the smallest pitch allowed by FIFA’s guidelines. One thing of note though: The pitch has been fairly accommodating to the Lions since the two teams entered MLS ahead of the 2015 season.
The MLS scheduling algorithm has, unsurprisingly, scheduled the Lions to play NYCFC three times every season — with 2018 being no exception — alternating which team gets the two home matches. For 2018, the Pigeons get the two home matches, with one this Saturday and the second on June 2. Orlando will host NYCFC in Orlando City Stadium on July 26 in a Thursday night match — following an away fixture to Columbus the previous Sunday and followed by a trip to LA Galaxy the following Sunday.
Historically, OCSC and NYCFC have played 10 times: one friendly and nine matches in MLS regular season play. Orlando has gotten the better of the series so far, winning five, drawing three, and losing two. In the four away trips to Yankee Stadium, Orlando is 2-1-1. So how could the Lions line up this time to maximize the opportunity to walk away from the Bronx with three points?
The great news for Orlando City is that Sacha Kljestan is finally available to play, having finished serving his ban stemming from a tunnel altercation with Jozy Altidore last year in the Eastern Conference finals. Player fitness levels increasing for those who came to camp late, namely Uri Rosell and Lamine Sané, may also bring more options for Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis and his staff as they brainstorm on the best group of players to travel north. However, with the club being cautious, we don’t expect some of those players back until after the bye next week. As we begin to piece together the puzzle that is the starting XI, it would probably benefit us to look back to the first two matches and build from there.
Match 1 vs. D.C. United
The 4-4-2 diamond Kreis is known for was the starting formation for 2018. With injuries, suspensions, and fitness concerns keeping some probable starters in the box seats, the Lions had to leverage depth early this season, including starting two rookies. Given the information available, I don’t think there were to many surprises here, except for maybe PC Giro. The back line looked solid, Cam Lindley did well in the CDM role after everyone settled down, and the midfield and attack looked dangerous all match. You can relive this match through the recap here, and revel in the shorthanded 1-1 result.
Match 2 vs. Minnesota United
I will not say much, but we all remember this.
I will also not harp on the result, except to say I was on my way to the stadium when I was rear-ended. Thankfully everyone was OK, but it did mean I did not make it to the match before the final whistle. It did, however, give me plenty of time to think about the following.
Match 3 at New York City FC
If Kreis decides to stick with his preferred 4-4-2, you could see something similar to this. I think starting Chris Mueller is probably the only real option right now, considering Stéfano Pinho is recovering from some unknown level of injury that could take time.
I am at a bit of a loss on how to work the roster, assuming everyone is fit, into a 4-4-2 diamond. If I were a betting man, I would almost say that as more players become available, you start to see a shift from the diamond to something more like a 4-2-3-1. But with the players we know are available for Saturday at New York City, the above may be the likely choice, although it’s possible RJ Allen gets a start at right back, given his experience playing on the small surface.
As players get healthier and return from suspensions, the options are getting better and better for Orlando City. The club may start a little on the slow side, especially compared to the fiery start of last season. We all were witness to how that fast start fizzled out and never burned bright again in 2017. The Mane Land staff pretty overwhelmingly predicted a struggle of a start for the 2018 season. It seems a bit obvious now to me that this is going to be a long season, and I need to be patient with the points taken.
And for those who are already screaming #KreisOut, I simply say please calm down, as this squad needs a bit of time — not the whole season, but maybe a few more matches. Sit down, keep quiet, and enjoy the ride folks! It starts in NYC!