Welcome to your match thread and preview for a Saturday afternoon playoff match-up between Orlando City and New York City FC at Exploria Stadium. This will be the third meeting between the Lions (11-4-8, 41 points) and Pigeons (12-8-3, 39 points) this season (12 p.m., FOX 35 Plus (English) and UniMás/TUDN (Spanish)) — all in Orlando — and obviously the first time the teams have met in the postseason.
The Lions are 6-5-5 in 16 meetings with NYCFC in the all-time series in MLS play and 6-5-6 including U.S. Open Cup play (remember, games that go to penalty shootouts in knockout competition are officially draws), so the series between the two 2015 expansion sides has proven to be a competitive one, even though the teams’ overall fortunes have been quite different. Orlando is 3-2-3 at home in this series in MLS play and 3-2-4 at home in all competitions.
The teams last met Oct. 14 at Exploria Stadium, playing to a 1-1 draw. Chris Mueller opened the scoring but Keaton Parks equalized just before halftime. It wasn’t Orlando City’s best performance of the year, but the Lions were missing a good chunk of the team: Dom Dwyer (knee), Joao Moutinho (groin), Uri Rosell (not medically cleared), Tesho Akindele (not medically cleared), Mauricio Pereyra (not medically cleared), Benji Michel (not medically cleared), Pedro Gallese (international duty), Sebas Mendez (international duty), Kyle Smith (not on the injury report but also not on the match day roster). Orlando should have almost everyone available this time out (more on that below).
The first meeting of 2020 also took place in Central Florida in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 14, when Mueller’s brace and a late Tesho Akindele insurance goal led Orlando to a 3-1 win. Jesus Medina scored for NYCFC. That win snapped Orlando City’s 0-4-3 streak in the previous seven competitive meetings with the Pigeons. The last match in that winless streak against NYCFC was a 1-1 draw with the Lions then dispatching NYCFC from the U.S. Open Cup in a penalty shootout on July 10, 2019. That night has been immortalized for the running of The Wall and Adam Grinwis’ heroics in goal. So, if you’re keeping track, the Lions are unbeaten in the last three meetings, although just 1-0-2 in those games.
The teams played to a 1-1 draw on April 27, 2019 at Yankee Stadium. Nani scored the opener in the 18th minute but it was canceled out by Heber in the 51st minute. A 2-2 opening day draw in 2019 snapped the Pigeons’ four-game series win streak, in which they’d outscored the Lions 10-0 in that span. New York City grabbed a 2-0 lead on goals by Ebenezer Ofori and Alexander Ring, despite Orlando playing well in the game. The Lions, as they sometimes do, roared back on goals by Mueller and Akindele and may have had a third from the spot when Maxime Chanot handled the ball in the box but no penalty was given.
The Lions had lost four straight games in the series prior to last year’s trio of draws. Orlando’s last victory in the series prior to that came on opening day of 2017, when Cyle Larin christened the stadium now known as Exploria with the only goal in a 1-0 OCSC win. Orlando was 3-1-2 in 2015 and 2016 in the first six meetings with NYCFC, and 4-1-2 after the opening day win in 2017. New York City has turned that around over the last couple of seasons to make this a much more even series overall.
Orlando enters the postseason on a sour note, throwing away a 2-1 lead late against Nashville and losing 3-2, snapping a three-game winning streak and sustaining its only home loss of the year. The Lions are 6-1-3 at home this season and won three of their last four matches at Exploria Stadium.
NYCFC has been pretty good away from home, going 4-4-3 in true road games and 2-3-0 in the MLS is Back Tournament, for a total of 6-7-3 in all matches away from Yankee Stadium. New York City FC turned its season around after a rough start. The Pigeons lost their first four matches of the season by a combined score of 6-1. They finished the year as the league’s hottest team, winning their last four straight — a feat Orlando would have matched if it had not collapsed in the final few minutes against Nashville.
Look for New York City FC to try to keep the ball and build attacks, with Maxi Moralez providing the most danger in both the buildup and the finish. Ring, who moved back to his more comfortable central midfield role recently, is a wizard at recovering the ball and the Pigeons will look for opportunities to transition off of turnovers. Defensively, NYCFC is the sixth best team in all of MLS (tied with Orlando) conceding just 25 times in 23 games behind a strong central defense pairing of Chanot and Alex Callens and great goalkeeping from Sean Johnson.
“I hope that we can have the sharpness as we had in the first game against them,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said in his press conference Thursday. “And in the second one too, we had a very good half. They have a good, solid back line and obviously with Ring coming back into his natural position things have changed there. But it’s like any other team. The team has their weaknesses and their strengths and we’re trying to control [some] and trying to expose them in the ones we think we can.”
The Lions have almost everyone available. Pareja said Thursday that just Dwyer (knee) and Moutinho (groin) are out with injury, although his young left back has returned to training and may be available for the next one should Orlando advance. Sebas Mendez was unable to charter a flight back from international play due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Ecuador players during the break, so he’ll miss the match as well. However, Pedro Gallese did charter back from the international break and is expected to be available. Pareja said Uri Rosell is good to go, but whether the midfielder will play or not after such a long layoff will be a decision for Pareja.
Orlando will not have to contend with forward Heber (knee surgery) in this match, and New York City will also be missing midfielder Gedion Zelalem (knee) and midfielder James Sands (foot).
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report gives some background on New York City FC from Christian Smith of SB Nation’s Hudson River Blue.
- This week’s PawedCast includes our key match-ups and score predictions for the New York City FC game and we were joined by Christian from Hudson River Blue.
- I wrote about the long history of Orlando City facing NYCFC in key matches and generating iconic moments in the club’s history.
- Our Daniel Finton says the Lions will need balance to win this match-up.
Orlando City (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.
Defenders: Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan.
Midfielders: Chris Mueller, Uri Rosell, Junior Urso, Mauricio Pereyra.
Forwards: Nani, Daryl Dike.
Bench: Brian Rowe, Alex De John, Kamal Miller, Rodrigo Schlegel, Joey DeZart, Andres Perea, Tesho Akindele, Matheus Aias, Benji Michel.
New York City FC (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson.
Defenders: Ronald Matarrita, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Anton Tinnerholm.
Defensive Midfielders: Keaton Parks, Alexander Ring.
Attacking Midfielders: Gary Mackay-Steven, Maxi Moralez, Jesus Medina.
Forwards: Valentin Castellanos.
Bench: Brad Stuver, Gudmundur Thórarinsson, Sebastien Ibeagha, Joe Scally, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Tony Rocha, Juan Torres, Justin Haak, Nicolas Acevedo.
Ref: Allen Chapman.
AR1: Logan Brown.
AR2: Nick Uranga.
4th: Marcos de Oliveira.
VAR: Guido Gonzales Jr.
AVAR: Jozef Batko.
How to Watch
Match Time: 12 p.m. ET.
Venue: Exploria Stadium — Orlando, FL.
TV: FOX 35 Plus (local only, English), TUDN/UniMas (Spanish).
Radio: Real Radio 104.1 FM (English), Accion 97.9 FM and 810 AM (Spanish).
Streaming: The match can be streamed on ESPN+ (out of market only) and Univision Now (by subscription)
Enjoy the match! Go City!
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