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Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do to earn all three points in the 2023 home opener against the New York Red Bulls?

Orlando City SC v New York Red Bulls Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

The 2023 MLS regular season is upon us, with Orlando City hosting the New York Red Bulls in Exploria Stadium this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Hopefully, you will be showing up in person to create a hostile atmosphere for the visitors. For those, like me, who are unable to make the trip this go-around, you can still get loud on the couch while tuned into the AppleTV MLS coverage.

Here are the things that the Lions need to do to secure three points against the New York Red Bulls this weekend.

Beat the Odds

Since joining MLS, Orlando City has earned a draw in six of the eight previous opening matches. In 2015, it was the inaugural match against New York City FC that ended in a 1-1 draw, thanks to a late goal by Kaká. In 2016, the Lions overcame a two-goal deficit on goals from Cyle Larin and Adrian Winter in the fourth and fifth minutes of stoppage time to draw the home opener.

After a 1-0 win over New York City FC in 2017 — the first match played in Exploria Stadium — Orlando City returned to form in 2018, drawing DC United 1-1 while playing a man down the entire second half. Orlando City once again played NYCFC, this time to a 2-2 draw in 2019. In 2020, Orlando City once again opened against Real Salt Lake, and the result was a 0-0 draw. It was only one of two matches played before the pandemic, the MLS is Back Tournament, and the remainder of a truncated season.

In 2021, things returned to normal — mostly — as Orlando City opened the season with a 0-0 draw against Atlanta United. Finally, last season the Lions won a home opener for a second time with a 2-0 victory over CF Montreal. Alexandre Pato and Benji Michel were the goal scorers in that one.

That brings us to this Saturday. Based on previous results, a draw is the most likely outcome for the first match of the season. Orlando City will need a repeat of last year’s result rather than the norm to get a victory and start the season on the front foot.

Defensive Discipline

Preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt since the club is working on certain formations, set pieces, fitness, and evaluating the players. However, a grain of salt doesn’t mean there’s nothing to take from those results. Orlando City gave up four goals in three preseason matches against MLS clubs, with two goals coming in each of the final two matches. The club will need to do better.

There are two new starting fullbacks, regardless of which players start. Antonio Carlos is not likely to make an appearance this weekend. The back line was the strength of this club, but at least for now is the weak link. There were breakdowns in the last match on both sides of the box that led to goals for the opposition. The defense needs to stay disciplined and eliminate those mistakes if Orlando City is to win.

It isn’t going to be easy, as the Red Bulls’ attack is no joke. Tom Barlow had an excellent preseason with two goals and two assists. The Red Bulls also signed Belgian international forward Dante Vanzeir to a Designated Player contract. If he is able to hit the ground running, he will be a concern for Orlando City’s defense.

Attack the Center

Orlando City scored five goals in the three preseason matches against MLS clubs with five different goal scorers — Ivan Angulo, Gaston Gonzalez, Jack Lynn, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, and Ercan Kara. The club also scored eight combined goals against FIU and Stetson University with five different goal scorers — Martin Ojeda (2), Chase Vazquez (3), Duncan McGuire (1), Wilfredo Rivera (1), and Shakur Mohammed (1).

Even adjusting for the level of play against the universities, that is still a lot of goals spread out over various players. Orlando City had numerous chances in the last match against the New England Revolution, but ran into a very good keeper in Djordje Petrović. Converting multiple chances like the Lions did in the preseason will be important given the back line concerns.

How the Lions can do this is by attacking the central defense of the Red Bulls. Service from Ojeda and Torres into the center for Kara, or whoever is playing striker, may be more effective than working it down the wings. Aaron Long has departed for LAFC, and with John Tolkin and Kyle Duncan the likely starting fullbacks, the center is the soft spot for Orlando City’s attack.

That is what I will be looking for as the Lions start the 2023 campaign. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.