The Lions finally won their first match since May 6 this past Saturday against Toronto FC, the club’s first victory under new head coach James O’Connor. Before City can try to make it two straight wins in league play, the team has a detour through Philadelphia in U.S. Open Cup action on Wednesday.
The Lions won their first match of the USOC under Jason Kreis and advanced on penalties after drawing their second under interim head coach Bobby Murphy. So, the Cardiac Cats are about to enter their third match of the tournament with their third head coach.
As James O’Connor comes off of his first victory at the helm, he has some interesting choices as to what product he could put on the field Wednesday night. Here are my predictions on what he might do with the starting XI.
This lineup was built on the 4-2-3-1 formation that O’Connor has placed on the pitch in his first two matches at the helm. The lineup features some talking points, though.
Joe Bendik Over Earl Edwards Jr.
Even after Edwards Jr. played a solid match in his first MLS outing of the season, I believe there is a real goalkeeper battle going on in Orlando. Bendik has not had the greatest season by any means, allowing 41 goals over 18 matches. The veteran watched Edwards Jr. pick up his first win but I believe if O’Connor senses a goalkeeper battle, Bendik has the right to prove himself in this match. Usually the backup goalkeeper gets the start in these kinds of matches, but I don’t think that will be the case as Bendik will look for an answer to Edwards Jr.’s performance against Toronto FC.
Justin Meram Re-Inserted Into The Squad
A surprise to many Lions supporters this past Saturday was seeing Justin Meram absent from the 18-man game day squad. O’Connor spoke after the match about why Meram sat out.
“We’ve got loads of games,” O’Connor said. “It wasn’t just Justin. I think, when you look at the amount of players that we have, again we’ve got another game Wednesday, another game Saturday, then we go Thursday, then we go Sunday.
“Again, there’s loads of games coming up. I think, for all of the players, I’m sure everyone’s going to [get] some games and some minutes in the upcoming games.”
This is also a reason why Bendik may have sat out due to the rough stretch of games ahead. The reason I could see Meram inserted into the lineup here is because I actually don’t see him playing the match following the USOC game, as O’Connor has shown he likes to use a wide array of players. Meram could also give great service to Josué Colmán and possibly Dom Dwyer, as I could easily see Dwyer being subbed on at some point. It would surprise me if Meram isn’t in the starting XI.
Uri Rosell and Cristian Higuita Return
After sitting out with a suspension for yellow card accumulation on Saturday, Rosell will likely return to the lineup alongside Cristian Higuita as the two defensive midfielders. Higuita was much like Meram as he was not in the 18-man game day squad against Toronto FC and I believe he will return as well. The Colombian started the previous USOC match against D.C. United and played well before being subbed off. Having both Rosell and Higuita in the starting XI will bolster the defensive end of the pitch for Orlando, help whoever is in goal, and take some pressure off of the back line as well. It would be smart of O’Connor to insert the two defensive midfielders into the lineup to improve the defensive presence.
Mohamed El-Munir Will Be a Crucial Sub
Tony Rocha played as a winger against Toronto, though he popped up all over the pitch during the match, so to fathom him playing the entire match is kind of unrealistic. This is where El-Munir comes in. El-Munir started as a left back and played pretty well against Toronto and I believe O’Connor should insert him at some point to keep his confidence going. He could also sub on for Justin Meram as a winger or come in at left back and move Rocha up to the winger spot. Lots of options here for O’Connor on the left side of the pitch. However, I wouldn’t count out Donny Toia at left back either.
To say this lineup will be exactly correct is far from certain. O’Connor has a plan for his team ahead of this rough stretch of games and probably has lineups already in mind for each to limit injuries. The goalkeeper battle adds yet another element to the depth of this Orlando City squad and the team will need to have options in stretches such as four games in 12 days.
Have any thoughts on what you might think the lineup may look like tomorrow? Let us know in the comments.