In most sports, playing the defending champions is always a cause for concern. After all, they’re champions for a reason. To some extent, this is true in Major League Soccer as well, but not to the same degree as in say, the NBA. In MLS, even when the best team in the league plays the worst team, there’s always a chance for an upset. It’s just the way the league is designed. In the case of Orlando City SC, the timing could scarcely be better to play this week’s opponents, reigning champion Toronto FC.
The Reds, original nickname and all, have had a much rougher MLS campaign than last time around. Toronto has already surpassed the number of losses it had last year by one, with six to the previous campaign’s five. Before you get your knickers in a twist, yes I acknowledge the fact that there have been a few mitigating circumstances that have contributed to Toronto’s rough start. In fact, some of those circumstances are exactly why I’m here.
When the teams face off at BMO Field tonight, Toronto will most likely be missing a whole heap of players thanks to injury. The team will be deprived of Jozy Altidore, who is recovering from surgery, and Sebastian Giovinco, unavailable due to a red card he received in the Reds’ loss to New England Revolution last week. Those two absences alone would be enough to improve OCSC’s chances, but the absences don’t end there.
As of MLSsoccer.com’s May 15 injury report, Nick Hagglund, Drew Moor, and Justin Morrow are all listed as out. All three are defenders and Moor and Morrow in particular are regulars in Toronto’s back line and their absences will certainly help the Lions’ chances. When one goes back and factors in Altidore and Giovinco’s unavailability, the prospects really could hardly be rosier. I don’t have to tell you that both players are well aware of where the goal is and have caused the Lions a fair bit of grief in the past.
Orlando finds itself in an interesting position with the weakened state that Toronto is in. Normally, the Lions would probably go across the border as pretty big underdogs, regardless of whatever winning streak the team recently had. However, given the circumstances, one could be forgiven for considering Orlando slight favorites. Yes, Toronto has a champion’s pedigree, but form talks, and right now the form of the Canadian team is less than great. As such, the temptation might very well be to walk into BMO Field guns blazing and, in theory, the idea isn’t a bad one.
It’s worth remembering though that a cornered animal is a dangerous one. While it’s still too early in the season to say that the Reds have their backs up against the wall, underestimating the reigning champions would be extremely unwise. As such, OCSC would be wise to employ an attacking but pragmatic game plan.
The Lions should try to take the game to their hosts but not at the cost of leaving themselves open. An example of this would be strategy when taking corners. Orlando has a maddening habit of throwing all but two or three players into the box when taking an attacking corner only to play the ball short, lose it, and then be faced with a dangerous enemy counterattack. That sort of over-commitment is risky against the worst teams and downright foolish against the best.
All in all, I believe the Lions have a very good chance of winning tonight. Toronto is in pretty poor form and is missing more than a few key performers. That doesn’t mean it’ll be a walk in the park though and it’ll still take a smart and composed 90 minutes to get out with all three points. Don’t forget that the game is tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Vamos Orlando!