Orlando City is playing in its first international tournament tonight as the Lions host Liga MX side Santos Laguna in a Leagues Cup quarterfinal match. There are plenty of unknowns heading into this game, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at some key factors in Orlando City’s bid to advance in this tournament. What do the Lions need to do to defeat Santos, and move on to the semifinals?
A Pressing Issue
On The Mane Land PawedCast our guest, Eugene Rupinski from FMF State of Mind, gave us some insight into the style of play that Santos prefers. They like to press. Think of how the New York Red Bulls play and you’ll get the idea. According to Rupinski, it’s not as common in Liga MX as it is in MLS, and Orlando City has at least had some practice, if not total success, against similar opponents.
The key to breaking that press is going to be the defensive midfield and the back line. Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell will not be available. The question then becomes how long can Júnior Urso and Andres Perea go? Will Joey DeZart get more playing time and is that a good or bad thing? How those players hold up is important.
I have fewer concerns on the back line. Whichever of the three center backs start, Orlando City will be fine. Between Emmanuel Mas and João Moutinho on the left, and Ruan and Kyle Smith on the right, the Lions have plenty of options at fullback. As for which players get the start, that is up in the air.
With Pedro Gallese still likely out (officially questionable), either Mason Stajduhar or U.S. Open Cup hero Adam Grinwis will get the start. With the chaotic play that Mexican sides are known for, having a keeper who knows where to be, and is communicating well with his back line, is extremely important.
Ideally, you always want El Pulpo in between the sticks, but Stajduhar has been solid for the Lions in his absence. Most of the goals he has allowed were unstoppable, and he’s made some big saves. Obviously, there is a dropoff from Gallese, but there are worse options.
I’m not saying Grinwis is a worse option, as he has experience, and has been training with Orlando City for weeks. The very idea of him playing in a tournament match at Exploria Stadium will get the supporters rocking in the stands the moment he steps on the field. I still expect Stajduhar to get the start, but if it’s the Grinch I won’t complain.
Whoever it is, they must play well for Orlando to get the win.
The Injured Offense
The song remains the same when it comes to Orlando City’s strikers. Daryl Dike? Out with two injuries. Pato? Questionable with a lower body injury that has no time limit. Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel are both available, but as much as we may or may not like them, they are not first string strikers in MLS.
Fortunately, Orlando City’s attack does not have to come from a traditional striker role. With nine goals scored, Nani has three times the amount of anyone else on the team. Silvester van der Water has shown how dangerous he is in his limited playing time, and when he’s not on, Chris Mueller is capable of scoring as well. Injuries are hurting the Lions offense, but if Orlando City is able to counter Santos’ press, there are opportunities to win the match.
Those are the things I’ll be looking for Thursday night at Exploria Stadium. If you are going, I urge you to be smart and wear a mask. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.