Happy Friday everyone! The international break has finally come to an end and Orlando City will be back in action tomorrow. The first game in several weeks is technically an away game against Toronto FC, but with the Canadian team using Exploria Stadium as its temporary home, the Lions will be playing in the purple palace’s familiar confines.
Alejandro Pozuelo made his first appearance of the year off the bench against the Columbus Crew in TFC’s last game before the international break. Obviously having a player of his caliber back should be hugely important. Do you think his return will change the way the team wants to play? If so, how?
Aasim Hashim: TFC Head Coach Chris Armas has been adamant about pressuring the opposition and trying to win the ball higher up the field. So off-the-ball we may not see a ton of changes on that side. However, Pozuelo’s return will have a big impact on what the Reds are able to do when they successfully force the opposition into turnovers. There have been far too many instances where once the Reds recover the ball, the quality of the final pass has been lacking. Pozuelo’s inclusion should have an immediate impact on that part of the Reds’ game.
Ayo Akinola got his first goal of the year in that game, but so far no one on TFC has scored more than a lone goal, and the team as a whole has eight goals through seven games. Do you think Pozuelo’s return will be enough to get the offense firing or are there other things that need to happen to help facilitate that?
AH: The sense is that Pozuelo is the missing piece of their offense, and being the game changer that he’s proven he can be, it is a good bet that he can revive this offense single-handedly. The Reds have struggled to get into prime goal-scoring positions and have quality shots on target without last season’s MVP, which isn’t exactly shocking, and even when they do so, they haven’t taken their chances. Pozuelo being available to start will automatically increase the level of quality in the side both in open play and from set pieces. At the end of the day, the Reds’ strikers are going to have to take their chances and find the back of the net.
What do you think Toronto needs to do in order to get the win tomorrow? Would you alter any strategies from the last time the two teams played?
AH: With help in offense arriving, the more troublesome side of the game so far this season has been the team’s off-the-ball play. The Reds have conceded 12 goals through the first seven games. That puts them in the bottom three of that category in the Eastern Conference. They’ve also spent way too much time chasing games as the club has gotten into a bad habit of conceding early goals, including in their match-up with Orlando last month. Chris Armas has talked about his team’s positional play off the ball and making sloppy mistakes in the lead-up to this match. Cleaning that up will go a long way in coming away with a positive result on Saturday.
Are there any injuries, call-ups, or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
AH (Pre-injury report): TFC looks to finally be turning a corner on the injury front after having a lengthy list of injuries to start the season. While players are getting healthy, the Reds will still be without one of their stars in Yeferson Soteldo. TFC’s newest DP was ruled out for 4-6 weeks prior to the international break and missed the club’s last match against Columbus. He’s likely still a couple weeks away from returning to action. Other players who are going to be out include Ifunanyachi Achara (ACL surgery), Julian Dunn (Hip Osteochondral Injury), and Erickson Gallardo (Groin). While not injured, Jozy Altidore will more than likely not feature in Saturday’s match-up after falling out with Armas and has been training on his own.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Bono; Richie Laryea, Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga, Kemar Lawrence; Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio; Mark Delgado, Alejandro Pozuelo, Jacob Shaffelburg; Ayo Akinola.
Score Prediction: 2-1 TFC. A three-week break and getting healthy bodies back might be enough for TFC to pick up their second win of the year.
Big thanks again to Aasim for the great info on Toronto. Vamos Orlando!