Sunday was a bit of a bitter pill. Not so much in it being a loss, but the collective hype leading up to it, the apparent transgressions during, and the resulting frustrations at the end of the match.
Now that we have had some time to reflect on the day that was, it is time to move on. There are matches ahead that require the team’s full focus. There were some holes uncovered during this past match that need to be addressed, and addressed quickly, as the next two months of MLS regular-season play is going to continue to test Orlando City and its fans.
The streak I am referring to is not the type of streak the team had found itself in over the past few seasons; those summer doldrums where the Lions seem to find it very difficult to win matches. The task ahead for the Lions looks something like this:
There are nine matches over the coming two-month span, book-ended by 2017 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield holders, Toronto FC. The match this Friday will be highlighted by the fact that Toronto will be without both Jozy Altidore (recovering from surgery) and Sebastian Giovinco (red card suspension). Only three of the upcoming matches will at home — the Chicago Fire (currently No. 7 in the East), Montreal Impact (No. 9), and Toronto FC (No. 10). The away matches will be challenging to say the least, starting with Toronto this Friday, as well as away trips to New York City FC (No. 3 in the East), Vancouver Whitecaps (No. 5 in the West), Atlanta United — in the second of three matches this season — and one of the new darlings of MLS, Los Angeles FC (No. 2 in the West).
What makes this stretch tough, not just for Olando City but for many teams around the league, is that players will begin to leave for national team camps in the next couple of weeks to begin preparations for the World Cup. Right now, the Lions will almost definitely be losing Yoshimar Yotún (Peru) and Amro Tarek (Egypt) for some period of time. I’m guessing Yoshi will most certainly be heading to Russia, but it is yet to be seen if Tarek makes the final World Cup roster. If Jonathan Spector is healthy, Lamine Sané can stay healthy, and Chris Schuler maintains, missing Tarek might be manageable. Yoshi being gone for — and I am speculating here — six weeks, minimum, is going to be a bit tougher to handle.
Yoshi has contributed three goals and four assists to date, has started all 10 matches for Head Coach Jason Kreis, and has played the fourth-highest number of minutes to date. He has been one of the most consistent players for City this season, and has played extremely well since moving back to the central defensive midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation the Lions have been fielding.
The good news here is that Oriol Rosell appears to be ready to play a full match, and Cristian Higuita — the Atlanta match notwithstanding — has been playing on another level. If Uri and Higuita can gel quickly, and I am confident that they already have, the loss of Yoshi will not be as bad as it could be.
Up front, everyone appears healthy. Unfortunately, the guys just didn’t look sharp vs. Atlanta.
As has been mentioned over and over here on The Mane Land, MLS is the league of parity and distance traveled, so opportunities to win points on the road should be examined very carefully. One possible measure to take over the next couple months should be to work with the front four players in the formation. Dom Dwyer is on a pretty good run of form right now, and has shown just how dangerous he can be; however, he does need help up top.
The matches to date where Dom has been the most dangerous are the matches where the Lions’ attack kept the defense wide, used the wings, and didn’t allow multiple defenders — especially center backs — to double-mark Dom. The good news is Josué Colmán’s performance has people thinking he needs more minutes, and I would tend to agree. This stretch of road games might just the perfect time to allow the young No. 10 to stretch his legs and make an impact in the starting XI.
There will be tons of discussion and banter for the next week about the Atlanta match. I am already beyond it, at least as much as I can be. Social media is abuzz with blame, anger, and trolling on levels that make reading difficult. I am personally still trying to figure out why I got yelled at by an angry person while trying to help settle a dispute over an accidental word dropped in front of a child (although the word had been shouted from all over the stadium for 45 minutes before I was asked to intervene in this situation).
Fact is, it was one match, one out of 34 for the 2018 season. It is not the end of the world. It is not the seventh seal breaking in front of us. It was a match that Orlando unfortunately lost but can build from. Remember, the Lions play Atlanta two more times this season.