The Lions come back from a longer-than-expected trip to Philadelphia and, with one day to prepare, will face familiar foe in New York City FC in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal showdown. The teams split the points in their MLS regular-season series, drawing in both meetings. One of the teams will finally get the upper hand, either by winning outright tomorrow night at Exploria Stadium or in penalties if the teams again cannot find a winner.
To prepare for this knockout match, we spoke with Christian Smith of SB Nation’s Hudson River Blue to get up to speed on Orlando’s opponents ahead of the match.
What has the road been like for NYCFC to make the quarterfinals of this competition? How did the team get here?
Christian Smith: It started off a very special 4-0 win over North Carolina FC. It’s special because of two reasons: it’s the first time we had ever won a match during USOC play, and because it was done with mostly reserve players. After that, it was a 2-1 win over D.C. United. And now, we’re here.
Statistically, NYCFC was the more dominant team in its match-up with D.C. United in the last round, with more than double United’s shots and shots on target, and 57% possession to United’s 43%. Do those stats tell the full story?
CS: I would say so, yes. City really asserted their control over that game. I think the scoreline wasn’t quite accurate as to NYCFC’s quality that night.
What is your key match-up going into this game, who has to win their battle for the Pigeons to head to the next round?
CS: It’s hard to say. Due to a congested schedule, NYCFC will likely field a rotational squad in this one. Should that be the case, I’d say it comes down to 17-year-old Justin Haak in the midfield. Apart from Joe Scally, Haak is the most inexperienced in the squad and his inclusion could be the make-or-break factor in this one.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection on Wednesday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
CS: James Sands is day-to-day as he recovers from a broken arm. Star forward Heber and depth player Tony Rocha are both likely out, and Scally is still recovering from hip surgery. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson and center back Alex Callens should both be returning from international duty, but it’s unknown if they’ll play in the match.
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Brad Stuver; Juan Pablo Torres, Sebastien Ibeagha, Alex Callens, Ben Sweat; Justin Haak, Ebenezer Ofori, Dan Bedoya; Jesus Medina, Gary Mackay-Steven, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
Predicted score: 2-1 Orlando.
As always, a big thank you to Christian for answering our questions about New York City FC.