Orlando City SC is set to face off against the Chicago Fire this Saturday. Both teams are in the middle of a two-game skid, and Orlando is looking to get back to the kind of form that saw the team win six games straight while Chicago is trying to find some consistency in a young season that has seen the team struggle to find steady form. Here are what I believe are the three keys to a victory for the purple and gold.
Stop Nemanja Nikolić
The Hungarian has 30 goals in 45 MLS appearances, with six of those goals coming in 11 appearances this year. Those six goals account for 40% of the Fire’s goal total of 15 for the season, and he also has an assist. Plus, his 24 goals last year were good enough to claim the Golden Boot, so he certainly knows where the goal is. All things considered, stopping Nikolić would probably go a good ways towards shutting down the Chicago offense. Not to say that the Fire are completely reliant on him — Bastian Schweinsteiger would probably take offense to that — but there’s no denying that he’s the team’s talisman. One only has to look at Orlando’s struggles without Dom Dwyer to see that stopping a player like that at the very least gives a team pause. With that in mind, negating Nikolić should be up at the top of the list of priorities for Saturday.
Eliminate Lapses In Concentration
This is something that goes hand in hand with the above point. Thus far, Orlando has only kept one clean sheet this season, in the 2-0 win against the Philadelphia Union. Many of the goals the team has conceded have come from players switching off mentally. Whether it’s a bad giveaway in midfield, poor marking during a corner, or simply losing an attacker during a simple run in behind the defense, many of the Lions’ wounds have been self inflicted. Getting rid of those kinds of silly mistakes can go a long way, especially because the last two games have been close losses. One or two moments during the course of 90 minutes can go a very long way in a game that’s decided by one goal, as all but one of Orlando’s losses this year have been. Being locked in for 90 minutes is one of the things that separates average teams from good ones, and it’s one of the next steps this team needs to take.
Score Without Dwyer
While there hasn’t yet been official word at the time of writing this whether or not Dom Dwyer will be available on Saturday, another important step in OCSC’s development is learning how to play and score without him. It’s all well and good that the team has been devastating with him in the lineup, but the struggles without him are certainly concerning. Realistically this is probably because there isn’t another player like him on the roster. Justin Meram is better suited as a winger, Chris Mueller is still developing, and Stefano Pinho is just a different kind of striker and has struggled with his hold-up play.
If Pinho is slotted up top in Dwyer’s place, playing long balls up to him and relying on him to hold the ball isn’t necessarily a good strategy. We unfortunately saw that on display during the Toronto match. Rather, the team needs to focus on building up play from the back, and bringing him into the attack with either a ball in behind the defense or a cross into the box. He’s more than capable of scoring, but the team needs to make adjustments to get him in the right positions to do so. Dom won’t be available for every game, so solving that Pinho puzzle is the key not just for this game, but moving forward as well.
There you have it, what I believe Orlando needs to do in order to win tomorrow. Don’t forget that the game is at 7:30 pm ET. I expect to see the stadium packed and bouncing. Vamos Orlando!