Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday night match-up between Orlando City (2-0-3, 9 points) and Toronto FC (1-2-2, 5 points) at Exploria Stadium (7 p.m., FOX 35 Plus). It’s the first of three scheduled meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals this season, with the teams meeting again on June 19 and July 17. Both of those upcoming matches are considered “away,” but for now they’re tentatively going to be at Exploria Stadium because COVID-19 international restrictions have Toronto staying in Central Florida for now.
The Reds are used to Exploria Stadium by now and won’t be travel weary for this one, so the usual home field advantage won’t be as pronounced as usual. This will be the third consecutive opponent for Orlando that the Lions didn’t play in 2019.
Toronto leads the very lopsided all-time series, 8-2-2, and 4-2-0 against the Lions in Orlando. The teams haven’t met since 2019 due to last year’s uneven scheduling.
The last meeting saw the Lions grab a point at BMO Field in a 1-1 draw — just Orlando’s second ever road result in the series. Benji Michel opened the scoring in the 69th minute but the Reds equalized off a scramble following a set piece in the 77th. The last time Toronto FC visited the Lions in their own home was May 4, 2019, when the Reds walked out of Orlando with a 2-0 win on goals by Jonathan Osorio and Jay Chapman.
The teams split their season series in 2018. Orlando City captured a 2-1 win at home in James O’Connor’s first home game as head coach of the Lions on July 14, 2018. Chris Schuler and Dom Dwyer staked City to a 2-0 lead and Nick Hagglund ruined the shutout in the 94th minute off a Sebastian Giovinco free kick delivery. The 2018 meeting in Toronto saw the Reds get a late game winner in a 2-1 decision at BMO Field on Ryan Telfer’s 87th-minute goal. That goal ruined what was a pretty good road performance by the Lions.
Toronto shredded Orlando in a 3-1 win on July 5, 2017. Jozy Altidore and Giovinco combined to score Toronto’s three goals. Carlos Rivas gave Orlando a consolation goal. In the first meeting of 2017, Orlando out-possessed, out-shot, and out-passed the hosts, and played like the better team on the night. However, the Lions could not overcome a two-goal deficit and Giovinco’s first-half brace led Toronto to a 2-1 win.
The Lions got their first victory in the series on June 25, 2016 winning 3-2 at Camping World Stadium. Kaká scored from the spot in the 10th minute of stoppage time to win it. Cyle Larin and Adrian Winter each gave OCSC leads in the game, only to see Jordan Hamilton and Justin Morrow equalize until the captain’s late winner. The Reds took the second 2016 match-up in Orlando with a 2-1 victory, scoring in the 86th minute through Altidore. Tosaint Ricketts gave Toronto an early lead but the Lions fought back on a Larin goal. The teams also drew 0-0 on Sept. 28 of that year, with Toronto able to fend off the Lions with 10 men over the final 20 minutes of the match.
In 2015, Toronto took home all nine points in the three meetings, beating Orlando by a combined score of 11-1. The final meeting of 2015 was a 5-0 massacre, with Orlando finishing the match with nine men. Toronto won the first-ever meeting, 2-0 on April 26. Giovinco’s hat trick led the way to a 4-1 drubbing of the Lions on Aug. 5 in the second match-up, with Luke Boden scoring Orlando’s only goal. Collen Warner also scored for Toronto.
Toronto is 1-0-1 at ‘home’ this season, which is to say at Exploria Stadium, but 0-2-1 on the road, which is to say away from Exploria. Orlando City is 1-0-2 when hosting in 2021. The Lions are coming off a 1-0 road win at D.C. United last Sunday and are on a team-best five-game unbeaten run to start the MLS season, while Toronto has collected two straight results (1-0-1) after last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium against New York City FC.
This series has been a contentious and physical one, despite Toronto having the better of it. There have been 46 cards issued in the 12 previous games, including four reds. That trend eased a bit in 2019, when there were only two cards issued in the two match-ups — one to each team in the second meeting. The sparks could reignite with former Lion Dom Dwyer signing with Toronto recently and Richie Laryea’s continued emergence as a fullback after a brief career in Orlando as a midfielder that didn’t quite pan out.
Chris Armas is Toronto’s new coach, taking over after Greg Vanney stepped down and relocated to Los Angeles. Armas would like his team to play a high pressing style like his former Red Bulls, and the Reds have played that way at times, although they’ve gotten results recently (after a rough start) by choosing their moments to press rather than trying to constantly smother their opponents. Orlando will need to recognize when Toronto is pressing and deal with it more efficiently than the Lions did last week at D.C.
Toronto FC is starting to get healthy. Jonathan Osorio is due to return from injury and new Designated Player Yeferson Yoteldo is settling nicely into the squad. Jozy Altidore is returning to match fitness and it’s just a matter of time for Alejandro Pozuelo. Dwyer has logged some minutes and should also be getting comfortable.
If the Lions are going to take something from this game, they’ll have to starve Pozuelo and Soteldo of the ball and defend them in numbers. This is particularly important if Ruan is unable to return from injury, as Soteldo has had some success building the attack and providing service from the attacking left. Orlando City will also need to deal with Michael Bradley, who has played well in the middle of the park of late.
Offensively, Orlando will need to get in behind Toronto’s fullbacks and try to create odd-man attacking movements against the Reds’ center backs. They have shown this season that they can be particularly vulnerable in transition. Toronto has also been susceptible on set pieces, which is an area the Lions haven’t exactly excelled the last couple of seasons, but those opportunities may be there, so Antonio Carlos or whoever else can get on the ball in the air will need to find the target.
“This is another game with the same importance that we give to each one against a rival like Toronto,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said at his Tuesday press conference. “It’s going to be a good derby — let’s see that way — and we’re excited to have the opportunity to keep adding points. They have a good momentum. We need to be writing a new story, and hopefully we can get the result.”
Orlando City will be without Nani for this match because the MLS Disciplinary Committee overreached in an egregious way to suspend the captain for two games. I’ve said all I need to say about that here.
As of this writing, Ruan is not on the injury report but Pareja said Thursday that he’d be monitored to see if he can play. That could mean a bench appearance or he might need another game off. Uri Rosell (lower body) and Alexandre Pato (knee surgery) are out, while Orlando’s game notes showed João Moutinho, David Loera, and WIlfredo Rivera all questionable with lower body injuries (lol). Moutinho played 90 on Sunday and I’m starting to suspect Ruan was supposed to replace Joao on this report and it just somehow never happened.
Toronto’s game notes list only Ifunanyachi Achara (left ACL surgery) and Julian Dunn (right hip osteochondral injury) as “injured.” Both were listed as out on the most recent MLS availability report.
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report provides more information about the Reds from Michael Singh, from Waking the Red, SBNation’s Toronto FC blog.
- This week's PawedCast includes our key match-ups and final score predictions and our preview chat with Mitchell Tierney from Waking the Red.
- Our Dave Rohe outlined his three keys to victory for Orlando City.
Orlando City (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.
Defenders: Rodrigo Schlegel, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Kyle Smith.
Defensive Midfielders: Sebas Mendez, Junior Urso.
Attacking Midfielders: Silvester van der Water, Mauricio Pereyra, Chris Mueller.
Forward: Tesho Akindele.
Bench: Brandon Austin, Michael Halliday, Rio Hope-Gund, Joey DeZart, David Loera, Alexander Alvarado, Andres Perea, Matheus Aias, Benji Michel.
Goalkeeper: Alex Bono.
Defenders: Kemar Lawrence, Chris Mavinga, Omar Gonzalez, Richie Laryea.
Defensive Midfielders: Auro Jr., Michael Bradley,
Attacking Midfielders: Yeferson Soteldo, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore.
Bench: Quentin Westberg, Justin Morrow, Eriq Zavaleta, Nick DeLeon, Ralph Priso-Mbongue, Jacob Schaffelburg, Jayden Nelson, Patrick Mullins, Ayo Akinola.
Ref: Victor Rivas.
AR1: Claudiu Badea.
AR2: Ian McKay.
4th: Alyssa Nichols.
VAR: Jose Carlos Rivero.
AVAR: Jozef Batko.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7 p.m. ET.
Venue: Exploria Stadium - Orlando.
TV: FOX 35 Plus (local only).
Radio: 104.1 FM Real Radio (English), Acción 97.9 FM and 810 AM (Spanish).
Streaming: The match can be streamed on ESPN+ (out of market only) and locally on the LionNation app.
Enjoy the match. Go City!
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