Tomorrow is going to be a big day for Orlando City, whether it knows it or not. It is Rivalry Week in MLS, and our closest southern neighbor, Atlanta United, is coming to town for the third of three meetings this season. What seems to be looming in everyone’s mind is how is Coach James O’Connor going to deal with the current top team in the Eastern Conference, as well as current leaders for the Supporters’ Shield, and that one player chasing history, Josef Martinez.
The biggest issue could be depth, as once again, injuries and suspensions lead to not everyone being available. The current injury report looks like this:
(Note: this report is dated Aug. 20, could change by Friday, and omits RJ Allen, who is out with a concussion. The report is often unreliable.)
Mason is back training, but was a scratch for the season while he underwent cancer treatment. The other four names on the list are the ones I am referring to right now. Lamine Sané and Jonathan Spector, who was chosen as captain at the beginning of the season, have had a difficult and injury-filled season. Sané has made 10 starts and Spector has made eight starts, missing a large number of matches due to being in concussion protocol. As soon as it appears that he has cleared that, he played a few matches and was right back on the injured list. Sané hasn’t seen the pitch since the last time the club played Atlanta United in July. Sacha Kljestan went down after what looked like a really bad roll of the ankle and knee in the first half of the match against the New England Revolution almost three weeks ago.
You might notice the Yoshimar Yotún’s name on the the injury list, but it is not bold, and this may help explain why:
Both Yoshi and Cristian Higuita are suspended for tomorrow’s match. Yoshi received an additional game suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for his red card incident in the match against the Revolution. Higuita, who received a red in the Lions’ last match against D.C. United, and whose appeal was denied, will be suspended as well. There is a bright spot in all of this.
In a move that seemed to defy the laws of physics, because some rules in the MLS seem even stranger than science fiction, Orlando City acquired Carlos Ascues on loan, although due to some paperwork issues outside of the control of City and MLS, it came just beyond the Secondary Transfer Window closing and the club had to get FIFA to approve. Ascues is available for selection, which not only adds depth to the back line, but brings in another player that could play defensive midfield, has international experience, sees this as a great opportunity to get back into the Peruvian national team discussion, and comes in knowing a current player — Yoshi — which will make the transition infinitely simpler and more comfortable.
So now that we know who isn’t available, and mentioned the newest Lion, what does this leave us for the possible starting XI? Well, let’s look at the last two starting lineups, a loss and a draw, and how wildly different they truly were.
The above 5-4-1 that saw Chris Mueller and Mohamed El-Munir all over their respective sides of the pitch, playing wide, end line to end line.
These were two very different groups of players and two very different matches played. Against Atlanta, you know what to expect — an extremely dangerous attack, a tough defense, a seasoned keeper, and a striker chasing history. Needing points, and desperate to turn this season around, what options are out there for players and formation for the Lions?
Here is one thought, a thought that comes from desperation and needing a victory, and a thought that puts pressure on players to prove they deserve to start, and start to build confidence for next season.
This is where I should insert the “change my mind” meme, but I know how difficult it will be for Jame O’Connor to pick a starting group. If Kljestan is able to play, I think I may want to put him in place of Josué Colmán and leave him for a little later in the match. As for the rest of the 18, just bring the healthy guys. I do admit, it would be nice to see Pierre Da Silva get some substantial minutes, but I am not sure I would want to start that buildup of playing time against Atlanta. Stefano Pinho could be another option, for a late substitute if needed, but I honestly think that most subs will be needed to shore up the middle of the pitch and put everyone behind the ball. Will Johnson, regardless of how you feel about him, is a workhorse who leaves everything on the pitch and will certainly see minutes. Chris Schuler may be the only other true center back available.
Friday is going to be a battle, and not just because it is Rivalry Week. It is a battle between a team with everything to prove, and a team with even more to prove. The roads that got the two teams to where they are right now are wildly different, and comparisons are bound to fly around this weekend like mosquitoes in the Black Hammock, but the only thing that matters Friday is starting a new trend, and there is no better place to start a new trend than at home, against Atlanta, with nothing on the line but pride, passion, and the crest.
Please @ me in the comments with your predictions for the XI. I am also very curious to know where you think I went right and wrong.