To date, I have seen Orlando City SC play in person on two occasions. The first was last March. when I was down in Florida while on spring break. On that occasion, I attended the second ever game in the new Orlando City Stadium, and watched the team beat the Philadelphia Union, 2-1. The second time was more recently, as earlier this summer I took in a U.S. Open Cup shootout victory with TML’s one and only bearded correspondent.
I’ll be attending my second ever Orlando home game this Saturday, and funnily enough the opponent will once again be the Philadelphia Union. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look back at the lineup of the game I saw last spring and compare it to what we’re likely to see tomorrow night, as well as going into how the team as a whole is faring.
A simple glance at last year’s team sheet reveals a very different squad from what there is today. For starters, there was a different manager on the bench, with Jason Kreis deploying his team in a 4-4-2, which saw Joe Bendik in goal, Donny Toia, Jose Aja, Jonathan Spector, and Will Johnson at the back; Servando Carrasco, Giles Barnes, Antonio Nocerino, and Matias Perez Garcia in the midfield; and Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas up top. Only Bendik, Toia, Spector, and Johnson remain with the Lions this year. The substitutes compared more closely to this year’s team however, with Josh Saunders, Tommy Redding, PC, Cristian Higuita, Pierre Da Silva, Richie Laryea, and Hadji Barry making up the bench contingent.
While last week’s lineup against Atlanta United was far from Orlando City’s best, it was a decent indication of what can probably be expected tomorrow.
Your City starting XI. #ORLvATL | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/87jBiRJupj— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) August 24, 2018
Things could scarcely be more different from a year ago. Bendik, Spector and Johnson are the only starting holdovers from last year’s clash. The formation is different too, with new(ish) manager James O’Connor preferring a 4-3-2-1. City’s goal scorer from the 2-1 win is gone, with Cyle Larin departing in somewhat noxious fashion. There are a whole host of new names and faces, and even some of the familiar ones find themselves in different positions than they did last year.
Bendik may not get the start tomorrow, and few fans would complain if Earl Edwards Jr. got the nod. Joe has been shaky this year, and while he wasn’t perfect last year, his form has certainly dipped. While Spector had his troubles with injury last year, they have been much more pronounced this season, and should he play tomorrow it would tend more towards being a pleasant surprise rather than a routine occurrence.
Seeing as how Orlando’s squad has changed so much, the names that the team relies on the most have as well. In the past, Larin was the one that fans looked to when it came to providing goals and last March he was the difference maker with a brace. Nowadays, that job falls to Dom Dwyer. Beloved by the purple faithful, he has a tidy sum of 11 goals in 18 games this year. While Kaká used to command the midfield, now Yoshi Yotún is the South American international running things in the middle of the park. There are new signings at almost every position on the field, and the team as a whole is barely recognizable from the one I saw over a year ago.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though given how last season turned out. Unfortunately however, the last major difference between the team I saw a year and a half ago and the one I’ll watch tomorrow is where it finds itself in the season. While last season would ultimately derail into a fiery train wreck, the 2-1 win against the Union was part of a period at the beginning of the season where OCSC won six of its first seven matches. Contrast that to now though, and the team is on a six-game winless streak, and sits at the very bottom of the Eastern Conference with a playoff berth only the most wild of pipe dreams.
Clearly times change, the difference in the roster alone is proof enough of that. Sadly, not much seems to have changed in the way of Orlando’s overall fortunes. Defending is still an almighty struggle, some suggest that the PRO still has a personal vendetta against the team, and the Lions still know how to send me spiraling into despair. But I’m looking forward to tomorrow nonetheless.
You supporters were very gracious and welcoming to me the last time I enjoyed a match in Orlando and I can’t wait to be put through the wringer with all of you lovely people once again. Vamos Orlando!