Orlando City will conclude its regular season series against New York City FC on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. The teams drew 2-2 in the first match-up in a game that maybe could have turned out differently if a handball in the box on Maxime Chanot had been called. But hey, the Lions trailed 2-0 in that game, so a draw isn’t the worst outcome if you consider the circumstances.
The teams also met in the Orlando City Invitational in preseason and although you can’t take a whole lot out of a glorified scrimmage, it does mean these teams know each other pretty well. How will the Lions handle their first repeat opponent of the season? Head Coach James O’Connor said it’s really a matter of handling the game’s setting.
“I think where it becomes totally different is the arena and the field,” O’Connor said after training on Wednesday. “The games we’ve played have been on a much bigger field. We’ve now got to go into an arena that is a lot tighter and a lot harder, so it’ll change the game somewhat. So we need to make sure that we understand that.”
The gaffer said New York City FC has changed formation a couple of times but the other difference from the preseason and opening day meetings comes in terms of personnel. The Pigeons have added Brazilian forward Heber Araujo dos Santos (commonly known simply as Heber) since the teams last met. The striker comes over via a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) signing from Croation side HNK Rijeka. After a pair of brief substitute appearances, Heber has started in each of the last two games — the first two wins of NYCFC’s season — and has produced a goal and two assists.
The Lions also have also added a new face since the first meeting. Center back Robin Jansson has joined Orlando and has become a regular on the back line since his first match against the New York Red Bulls. Additionally, Nani and Dom Dwyer were only available off the bench in the opening match, playing 20 minutes each. Both should be available for selection from the jump on Saturday.
The Pigeons played a midweek game against the Chicago Fire but didn’t travel, as it was a home match. Domenec Torrent started mainly a first-choice side in the match, so it’s a bit of a mystery what kind of rotation will take place for Saturday’s match. Key players like Heber, Alex Ring, Maxi Moralez, Alexander Callens, Chanot, and Anton Tinnerholm all started the match and played either all or most of the game against Chicago in a hard-fought 1-0 win for NYCFC. However, Jesus Medina did not play and the Pigeons could be bolstered by the return of Alexandru Mitrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who were both listed as questionable with ankle injuries on the midweek MLS injury report.
Orlando City last played on Saturday night, with the Lions also posting a hard-fought 1-0 win in their most recent game. It’s possible that Orlando could get Alex De John and Carlos Ascues back, as both defenders were also listed as questionable on the midweek report.
The Lions know that when they take to the foosball table surface of Yankee Stadium that they’ll have their hands full. In addition to winning two straight, New York City FC is unbeaten in its last four (2-0-2) and has climbed above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference entering this weekend’s slate of games.
To come away with anything from the match, Orlando City must start with its preparation.
“The biggest thing for us going into this game against New York is trying to get the level of performance that we all believe that we’ve had [previously],” O’Connor said. “I would say for the most part we’ve been really pleased with performances. I think some results haven’t gone the way we wanted. To maintain the level of performance that gets you the result is really important.
“Going into New York we want to obviously make sure we’ve got a good, solid foundation to be able to play from. And I think that’s the biggest thing going into an away game — you want to make it hard for the opponent. And equally our chance creation, we hope it can stay high and we can cause New York some problems.”
Orlando City and NYCFC will kick off at 1 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium. The game can be seen locally on My65.