With only two days until the quarterfinal match against Los Angeles FC there’s been plenty of speculation on whether Orlando City has a chance against last season’s MLS Supporters Shield winners. I’ll admit that I’m a little worried despite Orlando City’s recent form. This will be the biggest test of Óscar Pareja’s short tenure as head coach, and a win could be the greatest moment in the MLS history of Orlando City to date.
That being said, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and instead look at some of the factors that will determine whether the Lions are victorious on Saturday.
Two Extra Days
Orlando City has a two-day rest advantage over LAFC. This is no small thing given how good LAFC has been. Pareja has mostly started the same players, only making adjustments due to injuries. I fully expect we will see the same starting lineup as we did against the Montreal Impact, depending on the availability of Júnior Urso. While the club might not have known whether to prepare for LAFC or the Seattle Sounders, just the ability to have two extra days to recover and train could be a factor late in the match. If the Lions are able to keep it close, it could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
No Dom, No Problem?
Yes, Orlando City is without Dom Dwyer since he had to leave the bubble to get an MRI. As such, he is not going to be able to rejoin the club before the tournament ends. It’s a loss, as Orlando City doesn’t have a ton of offensive weapons available. By the same token, Dom hadn’t scored in the tournament before getting injured, so it’s not that the production will definitely be missed. However, he did create problems for defenses, and that allows others to get chances. While Tesho Akindele is a decent striker, he doesn’t harass a defense in the same manner as Dwyer.
No Vela, No Problem!
Coming into the MLS is Back Tournament, some wondered what impact the loss of Carlos Vela would be for LAFC. While I can’t say for certain the club wouldn’t have scored more goals, LAFC has scored 15 goals so far. That is more than double Orlando City’s seven goals. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t matter if Vela was available, but LAFC seems to be doing just fine without its top scorer. Holding the score down will be the biggest challenge for the Lions’ back line and Pedro Gallese.
As mentioned above, Orlando City will need to keep being solid on defense if the club is to advance past LAFC. The Lions have only conceded three goals in the tournament, and while that’s not the lowest of any club, it’s still been low enough. LAFC, on the other hand, has allowed eight goals in the tournament. Opportunities will be there for Orlando City to score goals, but the club doesn’t want to get into a shootout with LAFC. That means keeping the opposition in check will be a key factor.
This certainly seems to be a different Orlando City team from what we’ve seen in MLS. The players have bought into Pareja’s system and have so far been efficient in implementing his vision. Word from the coaches and players at the beginning of the tournament indicated that they felt good about the club and the chances of making noise in the competition. Many supporters were hopeful but feeling burned after the last several years. I’ll only speak for myself, but at the beginning of the tournament I was curious and cautious when it came to my expectations. Going into the Montreal match, I was still cautious, but fairly optimistic. Now, heading into the match against LAFC, I’m still curious, definitely cautious, but maybe a bit less optimistic. Fortunately, it’s not my mental fitness that is being tested but the players’.
That’s what is on my mind for Friday’s match. What about the match is keeping you up at night? Let me know in the comments below.