It’s finally almost here. The playoff game that Orlando City fans have been waiting so long for, and it’s even a home game! It won’t be easy, as fifth seeded New York City FC comes to town on the back of possibly the hottest run of form in the league.
NYCFC closed out the year on a pretty damn good run, winning eight of its final 10 games. What was the team doing best during that time?
Christian Smith: We were finally scoring! Taty Castellanos finally found his finishing boots, with Jesus Medina and Gary Mackay-Steven both stepping up to give key performances after a long series of lackluster ones. The team looks way more fluid in the attack as well. They’re still a “possession first” team, but they’re not afraid to play direct if the openings are there. They also aren’t rooted to building the play out of the back and will go long ball if the defensive line is high enough. Long story short, I feel the team is finally on the same page as Ronny Deila.
Maxi Moralez played in every one of the team’s last five games after having his struggles with injury for much of the season. How much of a difference did it make having him back in the lineup?
CS: His impact cannot be overstated. His ability to control the play from the attacking midfield is unparalleled throughout the league. Despite the fact that NYCFC were able to collect some results without him due to injury, the difference between their performance with and without him are night and day. Without him, City look solid. With him, they look like one of the best teams in the league. His leadership and passing ability just make all the difference.
Ronny Delia has completed his first year in charge of the club. What are your thoughts on him?
CS: While I’m not 100% sold on him, I think he could very well be a good coach. It’s hard to really take anything from this year, to be honest. Deila was appointed right before the team went into the preseason. And from there, he was faced with the most bizarre period I think sports have ever seen — a long period without games due to a global pandemic. With that said, the team was able to bounce back from a very poor start and finish in a respectable fifth place. So I don’t think any City fans will be calling for his head during the off-season.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
CS: Of all key players, James Sands will most likely still be out with a foot injury. Center back Alex Callens will also probably miss this one due to him being called up for World Cup qualifiers with Peru. Other than that, I can’t think of any injuries or suspensions.
My lineup is as follows. GK: Sean Johnson; RB: Anton Tinnerholm RCB: Maxime Chanot LCB: Sebastien Ibeagha LB: Ronald Matarrita; RDM: Alex Ring LDM: Keaton Parks; CAM: Maxi Moralez RW: Jesus Medina LW: Gary Mackay-Steven; ST: Taty Castellanos .
Final score: 2-1 Orlando. Despite NYCFC ending the season so hot, I have concerns about the team having a two-week layoff. I feel these long instances of just sitting around are detrimental to a team’s momentum, especially when they have to play on the road. City pulling out a win hinges on whether or not Ibeagha can competently fill in for Callens, and whether or not Medina and Mackay-Steven can stay in the headspace they’ve been in for the last 2-3 games.
It’s definitely possible for NYCFC, but I feel our playoff woes will continue.
As always, big thanks to Christian for the excellent insight into NYCFC. Vamos Orlando!