As the season begins, Orlando City has been pretty quiet as to what players or which formation is going to be used this season. Closed pre-season scrimmages have made it difficult for a lot of fans and media members to understand which formations are being utilized, what players are being selected for the starting 11, as well as who is being looked at to fill out the 18-man roster for opening day.
Though we don’t have a ton of information, The Mane Land staff tried their hand at predicting what fans could see as the Lions line up tonight. These lineups reflect what the staff expects for the opening game, as well as some notes as to how these formations could change as the season progresses.
I expect that Jason Kreis will be implementing his favored 4-4-2 diamond, given all the off-season moves.
Back Line: Joe Bendik between the sticks is a no-brainer, and that shouldn’t change all year, barring injury. Jonathan Spector is the leader of the defense and will be in his usual spot. He will be joined by Donny Toia in the center. While Toia has previously played on the left for Orlando City, the lack of depth at center back has resulted in Donny seeing some time in the middle of the defense this preseason. Scott Sutter will also be back on the right and will be mirrored by Mohamed El-Munir on the left. This gives the defense a good mix of veterans and new guys.
Midfield: Yoshimar Yotún returns to his natural DM position to anchor the diamond. It’s what he said Kreis was wanting from him this season, so I expect to see it right off the bat. We know how effective Will Johnson was on the right side, especially paired with Sutter. Justin Meram plays best on the left, though I expect him and Johnson both to be roaming all along the sidelines. With Josué Colmán unavailable, Orlando City will put Jose Villarreal at the top of the diamond. Just like the back line, there is a good mix of youth and experience in the midfield.
Attack: With Dom Dwyer sidelined with an injury, I believe that Stéfano Pinho will be playing as a more traditional striker with Chris Mueller sitting slightly behind him to be more creative. This has the added benefit of some overlap with Mueller and Villarreal for creating chances for everyone. Mueller has been impressive in the preseason, so why not ride the hot foot?
Overall, this is an attacking-minded lineup that I believe adheres to Kreis’ preferred tactics, while still overlapping experience and talent for the first match.
Tom Saunders (TheBeardedGuy)
Preseason injuries, late arrivals to training camp, and suspensions mean the new-found depth of the Lions will be tested immediately. The MLS season is a long and arduous one, and although the result of the first match can go a long way to defining the rest of the season, it is not one to take desperate measures on. Preseason matches and scrimmages have shown that the rookies are here to play, and walking out of the tunnel into the Purple Hell on opening day might just be what is needed to help them shake the nerves and firmly embed themselves as contenders for the starting spots every match. I think my starting XI is going to be pretty close, with the exception RJ Allen maybe starting in place of Sutter, Lamine Sané’s fitness is still not 100% certain, and Cam Lindley starting is sort of my dark horse prediction.
The opening day starting XI will be tough for Kreis with so many players unavailable but it will also give early opportunities to bench players. Pinho will slot right in for Dom and Meram will play as a second striker to help alleviate some of the pressure from the former NASL Golden Boot winner’s first MLS match.
With Colmán, Sacha Kljestan, and Oriol Rosell all out, Johnson and Cristian Higuita will get the nod. This will be a key game for them as opportunities will be limited throughout the year for both. After an impressive preseason, Mueller will get a start at right mid.
This midfield pairing could change as the game goes on. Mueller could push forward and play in more of a No. 10 role and either Higuita or Johnson will move to the right.
The rest of the team picks itself. Yotún plays left mid, as he will all season long. El-Munir, Spector, and Sutter all have their places set and it is theirs to lose. Tarek is No. 3 on the center back depth chart but with Sané not fully fit, Tarek will start the season opener.
I see a 4-2-3-1 formation for Saturday. With Dwyer, Colmán, Sané (maybe), and Sacha out vs. D.C., I believe some players will have to become flexible and move around the field. Pinho will get to start at striker, but I believe Mueller will get a shot to come on late in the second half.
As for the entire season, Toia-Sané-Spector-Sutter would be the ideal back line, Rosell-Johnson would make a great defensive midfield, Meram-Sacha-Colmán would make up a deep attacking midfield, and Dwyer would be the lone striker, with Mueller, Yotún, Tarek, and Higuita being the main subs.
Orlando City has some choices to make when it comes to the first game of the season. With Dom Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan out, the Lions have to get creative in the midfield. I go with a 4-1-4-1, with the two most attacking midfielders taking up the left and right wing. Yotún will become a deeper chance creator with Johnson and Higuita backing him up. As people come back from injury and suspension, Dwyer will take his place up top centrally and Colmán will come in for Muller. In the opening game, expect to see Cam Lindley get some minutes at the end.
In terms of future changes, Lindley and Mueller could fight for first-team minutes, especially if other players start off slowly. Sané will eventually take his place on the back line, taking Tarek’s spot. Either way, Orlando City will have a myriad of options when it comes to the formation. With the deepest squad in team history, Orlando City has some players to spare when everyone is healthy.
Which formation do you think Orlando City will roll out on opening day? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Which staff member’s formation do you think Orlando City will implement?
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