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Orlando City SC vs. D.C. United: What’s Changed?

The Lions are set to go toe-to-toe with a familiar foe, D.C. United, in the Round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

MLS: D.C. United at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City SC has an upcoming U.S. Open Cup clash against D.C. United. It’s a fascinating match-up between familiar foes and it deserves some discussion. As you probably remember, the Lions opened their season against D.C. United in a contentious affair that included two (highly questionable) video review decisions that were both ruled against the Lions — one resulting in a penalty kick and the other in a red card.

It was, especially for a season-opener, a physical and emotional bout that ended in the most dramatic of fashion: a stoppage-time equalizer from Stefano Pinho. It was a win in the Lions’ book, coming back late to equalize while playing a man down to steal a point. That was a great result given the circumstances. It was deflating for D.C. United, which looked primed to start its season off strongly with a win and three points gained on the road before coming undone.

Flash forward to now and both sides are struggling to hold their own in the MLS Eastern Conference. D.C. United is currently sitting at 10 points and at the bottom of the table, while Orlando is at 19 points. Both teams are struggling in MLS, and the U.S. Open Cup round of 16 match to be played on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET) serves as an opportunity for both clubs to heavily improve team morale, further their cup run, and ready themselves for more success after. The club that comes out on top and into the quarterfinals is going to have a massive boost and the match should be prioritized by both head coaches, Jason Kreis and Ben Olsen.

A lot of time has passed since that season-opening extravaganza. The Lions now look different from the Lions back then, in both good and bad ways.

What’s Changed?

First off, a few minor injuries have hindered the back line heavily since then, which is unfortunate because for a while there it looked like the Lions had three solid, healthy center backs that Kreis could rotate as necessary. Jonathan Spector went down with a concussion and Amro Tarek earned his national team call-up and all of a sudden the Lions were left with two fewer options in the central defense.Then Lamine Sané took a knock and even fourth-choice Chris Schuler broke his arm. Thankfully, those options have been returning as of late, even if they’re yet to get back in sync.

It hasn’t been helping that the right back position has been a bit of a revolving door. Scott Sutter, RJ Allen, and even the experienced and versatile midfielder Will Johnson have been occupying the role. The closest constant in the back has been on the left flank, where Mohamed El-Munir continues to almost completely dominate the position, even if not always the role. His fluidity in moving from the defensive third into the attacking third up the wing can be a great asset to the team in the impending match with D.C. United, as his MLS suspension does not carry over between competitions. I’m sure fans don’t forget that it was El-Munir who hustled back to prevent a Darren Mattocks breakaway goal. It was the highlight of the match for me (and even a defining moment of the season so far), even over Pinho’s late equalizer.

An area where the Lions have seen massive improvement is in their midfield, with the inspiring play of Cristian Higuita and Sacha Kljestan showing that the Lions, when in form and striking on target, are a dangerous club to line up against. With the versatility of guys like Justin Meram, Josué Colmán, and rookie Chris Mueller, Kreis has a bevy of options to deploy depending on his weekly strategy. The long-anticipated emergence of Uri Rosell alongside Higuita in the defensive midfield roles has been crucial to keeping the clock ticking and possession moving.

The diamond midfield that Kreis deployed against D.C. in the season-opener is no more and the players deployed have changed greatly. While still extremely talented, Homegrown midfielder Cam Lindley has taken a back seat this season following his start in the opener, and the play of Rosell will only bury him further down the depth chart so long as he remains healthy (knock on wood). Unfortunately for the Lions (but very fortunate for him), Yoshimar Yotún won’t be available for the U.S. Open Cup clash against United, as the Peruvian midfielder is representing his country in Russia.

But, as displayed in the Lions’ 3-0 win against Miami United FC, depth is strong in this midfield and Dillon Powers in particular was impressive, scoring his first goal as a Lion. In my opinion, the midfield has truly grown into a force to be reckoned with, and even with Yoshi missing, I think this group will have a much stronger influence on the match and possession than the group that started the season did.

In attack, things have sort of been up and down, a mixed bag if you will. When Dom Dwyer is healthy, the Lions are usually firing and creating more chances. As of late, he’s been missing, and it’s been quite apparent. With Dwyer back in the starting lineup, having the ace up top against a somewhat frail D.C. United back line will be crucial to putting the ball into the back of the net.

Dwyer’s presence is felt by both sides during a match and he has the ability to beat teams by himself or distract defenders so that his teammate is in on goal. A player like that is invaluable to remaining competitive in a round of 16 clash and having him back and healthy could be the difference between an elimination or progressing to the quarterfinals (assuming Kreis gives Dwyer the nod, though a bench appearance may be more likely with a league game vs. Montreal coming three days later.).

The Lions look like a much stronger side now than they did back at the beginning of the season, there’s no doubting that, even despite the current losing streak. I think this much-improved Lions side is going to beat a struggling D.C. United side. I also truly hope that PC is given more play out on the wing, and what better a way to forget about his controversial sending off in the season debut than to eliminate the team it occurred against?

What do you expect from the upcoming round of 16 match? Let me know by commenting below.