We are halfway through the international break, and the Orlando City Lions are hard at work in training, preparing for what should be a good stretch of matches over the next month of schedule. The good news for us is that reports from camp have pretty much every player on the roster in full training, including Uri Rosell and Dom Dwyer, with the one exception of captain Jonathan Spector, who is still recovering from a concussion he sustained during the last match against New York City FC.
Not bad to have three of five matches in the next stretch at home, and the first away trip is a quick one up north to face Philadelphia — and no midweek matches yet. Still, getting into a good rhythm now will help as we get deeper into this 2018 MLS season, especially for Orlando as we get into the dog days of summer.
Roster depth is something that, at least on paper, appears to be something that the Lions have plenty of this season — arguably the deepest bench in the club’s MLS history. It certainly is not perfect, but it is a roster that looks to lend itself to wise rotation and numerous options for substitutions. The latter of those two roster pieces, substitutions, certainly is going to be key to this group of Lions to take the fans to the promised land of the playoffs.
Admittedly, you certainly do not want to be subbing center backs unless there is an injury, so this basically isolates the discussion to the fullbacks. The Lions have depth at both right back, with Scott Sutter and RJ Allen, and left back, with Mohamed El-Munir, Donny Toia, and Victor “PC” Giro. The biggest question here is are there combinations that are more defensively minded for those times when matches need to be closed out (a.k.a. parking that proverbial bus if you have a lead), or do you maintain the attack and hope that coverage is behind you and can handle any counter that might take place? I think the pieces at left and right back are there for both aspects of the match, and it will simply come down to proper management.
Where do we start here? Can anyone remember having more choices for midfield than what is on the roster than right now? I think the hardest part of tackling this aspect of the substitution piece is locking in on the starters, and that is driven by formation and waiting to see if Head Coach Jason Kreis continues with his preferred diamond formation or if he shifts to something more like a 4-2-3-1. Regardless of the formation, I think it is fair to say that we will certainly see Sacha Kljestan, Yoshimar Yotún, Josué Colmán, and Rosell.
But wait a second, what about Justin Meram? This is the quandary of the diamond, unless you plan on playing him up top with Dom Dwyer. Again, take a look at the players that will now be available on the bench, and realize Orlando City will have some time without some starters as Russia 2018 gears up. Now you are looking at the possibility of having Will Johnson and Cristian Higuita (as long as his card accumulation stays low) as solid choices for the midfield. Rookie Cameron Lindley has shown that he is ready and capable to play in this league. Don’t forget about the more offense-minded Pierre Da Silva and Richie Laryea. And don’t forget about Dillon Powers. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Truth be told, with a couple older players in the middle, having a bevy of options to substitute when appropriate, will only help to keep players fresh.
The thinnest area currently in the roster, especially with the injury to Stéfano Pinho. Things are looking better with the return of Dwyer to full training, but it is still a worryingly thin section. Sure, you can throw bodies forward, but then you are playing guys out of position, which I personally think this team has seen way too often in its short history (remember the Brek Shea experiment?). Chris Mueller has shown tons of promise in the minutes he has played, and he will certainly be a valuable asset as the season wears on. It will be great when Dom is back and Pinho is healthy, and the club can look to rotate forwards a bit to find the best combination of starters and who that one guy is to bring on late to give the Lions the best chance at wreaking havoc on a tired defensive line.
You don’t sub keeps, except in cases of injury, but if I didn’t at least mention the position, someone would call me out on it.
Without seeing the full roster, or at least 95% of the roster, healthy and available for selection, it is that much more difficult to discuss substitution strategy, given that we have not seen the formation and tactics that will be used with a healthy squad. I would not dare try to use my crystal ball to predict this one, so I am waiting with anticipation for the next match versus the New York Red Bulls.
Hopefully the fans will get more confirmation in this coming week as to fitness and availability of the players we have been closely watching, like Dom, Colmán, and Rosell, and then it is just a waiting game until Saturday. This subject will be revisited, sooner rather than later, but we need to see a few matches with a healthy squad, and I think that is just about to happen. Knock on wood everyone, knock on wood.