Rotating players has been a trend for Orlando City SC since James O’Connor took over as the Lions have had five distinct lineups in as many matches under the head coach, who fielded 18 different starters in the month of July so far.
More changes will come when the team takes the LA Galaxy tonight and, again, a new lineup can be expected as center back Shane O’Neill, who started the last three matches and had some solid performances, will need to be replaced as he’s suspended. More changes could happen due to physical conditions, as O’Connor said during his press conference following the 2-0 defeat to New York City FC on Thursday.
“We need to follow the process and make sure we get some rest,” O’Connor said. “We need to try to manage the players and see who’s got aches, stiffness, or soreness and make sure we assess everyone. And we’ll see who’s able to train and who’s able to make it to the weekend and try to get a team out there that hopefully gives us a strong performance for 90 minutes.”
If O’Connor is indeed willing to give players some rest he perhaps should start with Sacha Kljestan. The midfielder has been one of Orlando’s most effective players since the head coach took over, recording two goals and one assist in the last four matches, but if anyone on the roster could benefit from a break and skipping a long trip to California, it’s him.
For starters, Kljestan is both the oldest player on the roster and the one leading the team in minutes in Major League Soccer, with 1,680 earned in 19 consecutive starts. He also played in three U.S. Open Cup games, making his minutes get close to the 2,000-mark. Even though Kljestan apparently disregards the effects of extended playing time on his body, this could be a good occasion to provide him some rest.
The fact that the Lions are going to play on the road against an LA Galaxy side that is expected to control the game would also make the veteran’s absence less felt by the team. With Orlando more likely playing in a counter-attacking system, Kljestan’s abilities could easily be replaced by a faster, more dynamic player without many issues for Orlando City.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Lions will need the midfielder at his best when August comes. With matches scheduled against the New England Revolution, D.C. United, and Atlanta United — all Eastern conference rivals — Orlando can drastically change its situation in regards to a run to the playoffs and even get some much-needed confidence if things go the team’s way.
Making lineup decisions is never easy and in Orlando’s position, where picking and choosing games is not an option, these get ever more difficult. However, sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back to be in position of taking two forward and that may just be the case.