The MLS is Back Tournament is only one week away, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to watch Orlando City play some soccer. When the Lions kick off, it will have been just over four months since the club’s last match. Of course, it was for a good reason, though the coronavirus has been on the rise just as MLS prepares to start back up. Assuming this tournament actually happens, there are plenty of questions surrounding Orlando City that will be answered in the coming weeks.
Will the Lions Start Scoring?
Orlando City started the 2020 season with a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake at home and a 2-1 loss at the Colorado Rapids. Orlando City’s lone goal came on Chris Mueller’s beautifully timed run onto a perfect ball from Andrés Perea in the 82nd minute. Of course, supporters knew that goals might be tough to come by in those first two matches with Dom Dwyer out with the dreaded lower body injury, and Nani serving a two-game suspension due to aggressive behavior toward a match official in Orlando City’s final 2019 season match against the Chicago Fire.
Now that both Dwyer and Nani are back, Óscar Pareja will have all the pieces he was missing in those first two matches (unless they’re among the players who have tested positive in the bubble). While comparisons to last season are completely impractical given that this is a tournament, the Lions will need to score more goals if the club hopes to advance in the competition. For that to happen, Dwyer needs to get his mojo back, Nani needs to take some chances when he’s not doling them out, and the surrounding cast needs to contribute. That means Mueller, Tesho Akindele, Benji Michel, Santiago Patino, Daryl Dike, and the rest.
How much Squad Rotation Will We See?
Orlando City returned to individual training on May 6, and advanced through the MLS defined stages that culminated in full training sessions. Now they have entered the tournament bubble at Disney and are continuing preparations for the first match against Inter Miami CF. MLS clubs have had a truncated preparation schedule after a forced off-season, and it was uncertain what the schedule for the tournament would look like. Now we know that clubs will have the better part of a week between matches in the group stage, and then the matches will come a little quicker in the later rounds.
What does that mean for players who will almost certainly not be 90-minute match fit. There are very real possibilities for injuries, especially if players’ minutes are not managed in these matches. Although the five-substitution rule will help, we may see more players get time than we would see in a normal season. Pareja’s ability to rotate the proper personnel for each match will be a key factor on how well Orlando City is able to compete.
Which Young Guns Will Contribute?
Several younger players have proven their value before the interruption of the season. Mueller has the only goal for the Lions so far this season, João Moutinho has shown development since last season, Ruan’s speed is devastating, and Michel is a real threat up top. As mentioned, squad rotation is important, so we can expect to see plenty of Kamal Miller, Sebas Méndez, Perea, and perhaps others, like Dike and Jordan Bender. That is a lot of young players, and how they perform will help determine how far Orlando City is able to advance. I fully expect that many will be key players in Pareja’s game plan.
How Will COVID-19 Affect Things?
As of June 28, MLS reported 26 positive tests in its coronavirus screening, including at least one from Orlando City. Outside the bubble, Florida has seen six straight days of new cases numbering over 5,000 with a high last Friday of 9,557. The state is seeing a spike, and the consequences could be devastating for the tournament’s success if there is any crack in the bubble that MLS has put the players, coaches, and support staff in. We’re still waiting for all of the MLS clubs to arrive in Orlando, and they’ve yet to announce the final roster for each club. But there have already been four positive tests inside the bubble, so that’s an early troubling sign.
The health concerns aren’t the only impact of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The matches will be played without supporters in the stands. We’ve all seen what that looks and sounds like thanks to other leagues throughout the world, but how the players adapt to the new normal could impact the results. Orlando City in particular will miss out on the home team advantage the club would usually enjoy when playing in the City Beautiful.
Will Orlando City Advance?
We’ve looked at some of the questions surrounding Orlando City and the upcoming MLS is Back Tournament. Now it’s time for you to answer the most important question in the poll below. Will Orlando City advance out of the group stage? The top three teams in Group A will make it through. If you’re brave, post your reasons in the comments. As to not influence, I will add my prediction there as well.
Will OCSC advance out of the group stage?
This poll is closed