Orlando City will host the New York Red Bulls Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The Lions finally got a breather following three matches in only seven days. Despite the schedule difficulty, Orlando City earned nine of nine possible points in those matches, and now needs to keep the win streak going. That is easier said than done since the Lions’ opponent is the only club to hand them a loss so far this season. What does Orlando City need to do to turn the tables on the Red Bulls and earn another three points?
Break on Through to the Other Side
When Orlando City last faced the Red Bulls, I said they needed to be able to break through New York’s pressing attack. Orlando City was not able to do so, particularly in the first half, and lost the match. Of course, the Lions’ quality is such that they still had a chance to draw, if not for Silvester van der Water missing a sitter late in the match. The Red Bulls press more than any other club in MLS, and if Orlando City can figure out how to play through (or over) that press, then the club can have success.
Successfully getting behind New York’s press is going to require Orlando City’s defensive midfielders to create takeaways and quickly pass the ball to the attack. Meanwhile, Nani, Chris Mueller, Mauricio Pereyra, and the other attackers will need to exploit the space behind the Red Bulls’ lines. Orlando has proven in the past that it can play this way effectively and often beautifully. The players will need to prove that again.
With João Moutinho and Ruan both questionable for Saturday’s match, it will be up to Kyle Smith and Michael Halliday to continue to fill in for the injured starters. Smith has played every minute of Orlando City’s matches so far this season. Óscar Pareja’s “El Soldado” has ably stepped into either of the fullback positions over and over again since Pareja took over. He’s not the most exciting player offensively, but he can get forward occasionally. More importantly, he’s been solid in defense, which the Lions need this weekend.
Halliday will most likely get his third start, and as we mentioned on this week’s Mane Land PawedCast, he’s getting better each time he takes the field. He still has to work on the attacking end, but he has held up well against some good competition. Yes, he makes the occasional mistake but so did you when you were his age. The more minutes Halliday gets now, the better he will be as a backup or even as a starting option in the future. While it would be nice if his crosses in the attack were better, right now he just needs to keep working hard on defense.
Both players will need to help the center backs, and the defensive midfielders deal with the Red Bulls’ pressing attack. If Smith and Halliday can get back quickly in transition and help push the Red Bulls’ attack wide, it will make a difference in the quality of the opposition’s chances.
Long Live the Long Pass
Remember Robin Jansson’s pass to Nani against Inter Miami — the one that Nani deftly crossed to Chris Mueller for Orlando City’s first goal in the comeback victory? Let’s have more of that in this match. As important as it is for Orlando City to try to play through the Red Bulls’ press, having the Beefy Swede drop long distance dimes over the entirety of the New York defense will force the visitors to hang back a little, and it will open up the middle for Orlando City. I’m not picky, either, because Antônio Carlos is welcome to do the same for the Lions. Being able to counter attack through the air, as well as over land, might make the difference for Orlando City this weekend.
Those are the things I’ll be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.