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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. FC Cincinnati

The Lions look to get back to winning ways against the new guys from Ohio.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Another Friday is upon us, and after the 2-1 loss up in Seattle it couldn’t get here soon enough. To be fair to Orlando City, the team played better than I was expecting, especially given the heavy rotation in the squad, but now it’s time to put Wednesday in the rearview mirror and look ahead to Sunday.

This weekend sees Orlando City take on Major League Soccer’s newest club, as FC Cincinnati will come to Orlando City Stadium for the first clash between the two teams. In order to prepare I spoke to Bill Wolf of Cincinnati Soccer Talk and he was kind enough to give us a wealth of information about the league’s new kids on the block. I also answered his questions and you can read those over at their place.

One of the big stories in MLS recently was the firing of Alan Koch fairly early on in the season. His replacement, interim coach Yoann Damet, immediately notched a 2-1 over the Montreal Impact last week. Obviously there’s only one game to go off of, but what are your early impressions of this team under Damet?

Bill Wolf: As you say, it’s really early to make generalizations, but if we compare the players in the last seven games under Koch to the one game with Damet at the helm, there is an obvious energy and drive that was not present before. There has been a lot said by players in the last several weeks. Prior to the coaching change, there were many statements of support and belief in the team and each other. Noticeably absent was any belief or support in the coach. Since the coaching change, there have been many players talking about their respect for Coach Damet, and their belief in his plan. Implied, of course, is a contrast to their previous coach. The players gave a vote of no confidence to Koch and the front office listened. When you’ve lost the locker room, there really isn’t much that can be done. Alan Koch had said the players weren’t good enough. The players look like a team with something to prove now. On the pitch is a spark. You can see joy back in their game, and it’s much more enjoyable to watch. What will have to unfold is how sustainable that is. Was this a one-game bump? A three-game bump? Or is it the new normal?

Frankie Amaya was the number one overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft. While he hasn’t played in a ton of the team’s game so far, how has he performed in the games in which he’s featured?

BW: Frankie has been a bright light in a rough start to the season. It took him awhile and several injuries to other teammates before he got a chance to play a few minutes in any game, but even in those early looks, it was obvious he was tenacious and gifted. He doesn’t have the size, but he doesn’t back down either. When he gives up the ball, he is hounding the player to turn it over. Just as he started to break into the 18 and get some minutes, he was loaned out to Orange County. At a time, when attacking options were scarce, it was an odd decision. Fortunately, the club recalled him quite quickly and we’ve seen his playing time continue to increase.

Amaya’s style of play seems to fit Damet better. Under Koch, he was a wing. Amaya is quick, but his size means that a large player with a long stride will catch him. In a long ball and counter system, he wasn’t the most effective. Playing wing also meant dropping back and being prepared to defend when the outside back crashed forward. Amaya wants to go forward. Damet, slid him into the middle of the pitch as an attacking mid. Amaya is good with the ball at his feet. He is comfortable dribbling through traffic and his vision is top rate, creating opportunities with well-placed passes. With Victor Ulloa behind him, his job is more about causing turnovers high up the pitch and moving the ball forward. He likes to link up with other players, continuously moving off the ball to be available and looking to find the next opportunity to move the ball strategically.

He needs to shore up his first touch and get more fit to be able to last 90 minutes at the energy level he is bringing. If he had gotten more playing time to improve fitness and show his capabilities more, I’m confident he would have been selected for the U-20 World Cup. So, though I feel like the club failed him in that regard, they will absolutely benefit from that as well.

Speaking as a fan of a team that was a first-year expansion club not so very long ago, I know it can be difficult to build a team identity and establish a way that the club likes to play. So far, what would you say FCC’s on-field identity is — what is the team’s bread and butter?

BW: Again, it’s really too early to tell. Anything we saw under Alan Koch is clearly in the past. We’ve only seen a single game with Yoann Damet at the helm. Was the plan a reaction to the opponent? Will the team look and play differently against Orlando? Damet even made some comments that they’d have to evaluate what worked and what didn’t for this group of players, and they will make adjustments. I think their identity is still being developed a bit.

However, it is probably safe to say the Coach Damet has already made some changes that seem to reflect his vision for what he’d like to see out of the team. Under Alan Koch, we saw a lot of long balls out of the back, a bunker-and-counter style. The midfield was not heavily involved in buildup. Under Damet, the team is now building out of the back and working the ball through the midfield. Passes are short and simple with players continuously moving off the ball into available space. In the first 11 games of the season, the team averaged around 44% possession. They averaged around 400 passes per game, with 180 of those passes, on average, coming in the first half. Against Montreal, under Damet, the team had 55% possession. They had 401 passes in the first half, exceeding their past total game average. They finished the game with 571 passes.

Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection and what is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

BW: The only significant injury I’m aware of at this time is Allan Cruz. He took a hard knock at the end of the Montreal game and had to be removed from the field. It’s unclear whether he will be recovered for the game against Orlando. Kenny Saief appears to be back training and could likely step in for Cruz. We have no suspensions at this time — a couple of players, sitting on four yellows at this time, but no one who will miss Orlando on accumulation.

Projected starting lineup:

Last game, Yoann Damet rolled out a 4-3-3 formation, and I think, considering it worked, he’ll stick to that. The back line will remain the same with Spencer Richey in goal, Greg Garza, Kendall Waston, Justin Hoyte and Mathieu Deplagne making the back four. The midfield will also be the same, with Ulloa as the holding mid, and Leonardo Bertone and Amaya sitting ahead of him in a more attacking role. The front three will be Roland Lamah, Darren Mattocks and Saief. The only change from last week being Saief for Cruz.

Score prediction:

This is a big game for both teams. Cincinnati has an opportunity to leap Orlando in the standings and, depending on results, end up tied with the Red Bulls on points. Both teams have a game in hand over Cincinnati, but FCC needs some upward momentum having dropped significantly after their seven-game winless streak. Orlando has an opportunity to leap Red Bulls and put some distance from the bottom of the table. They are winless in the last three (now four) and will want to turn things around back home for this game.

Cincinnati opened the gates in the last game and scored two goals after being scoreless for literally hours upon hours of play. I think they are riding high on confidence and we’ll see some more goals. That said, the back line has been a little shaky under their new system and I expect another error to allow a goal against. I’ll predict an outcome of 2-1 in favor of the Orange and Blue.

A big thank you again to Bill for that wonderful insight into FC Cincinnati.