Usually we do Three Questions with other blogs here at SB Nation, but seeing as how Orlando City SC is new to the league, we figured a fourth question was necessary. to look ahead to the New York Red Bulls' Saturday match in Florida, we talked to Michael Citro, Managing Editor of The Mane Land (TML), the SB Nation blog covering OCSC.
OaM: Orlando City enjoyed pretty good success in USL, but sit at around .500 (6-7-6) in their first MLS season. What kind of growing pains has the team endured this year?
TML: The first third of the season the club had to learn to play together, as they were essentially an entirely new team with just a small core of players from the USL days -- and most of those were very young. There were all kinds of delays to the team starting to gel, with key injuries and international call-ups being the chief problems. In fact, those two issues are the main reason the team has dropped some points, with the addition of some untimely suspensions, such as Kaká getting sent off against Real Salt Lake for accidentally stepping on Javier Morales two weeks ago.
This team has been plagued by injuries to key positions all over the field. The projected starting striker has appeared in only a couple of games as a sub after finally getting fit and then hurt his knee and is out again. Brek Shea is out for a month or more with a groin issue. Dynamic Trinidad & Tobago international and starting right wing Kevin Molino blew an ACL in a mid-season friendly against Ponte Preta. It's been a nightmare of injuries and if the club can get past that, it might actually make some noise down the stretch.
OaM: The two big signings by Orlando City in the offseason were Kaka and Brek Shea. How has the duo been working out?
TML: Kaká has been as good as advertised. Even while adjusting to the league, he's among the leading goal scorers in MLS. He has typically a couple of 'wow' moments in every game, where he'll nutmeg a guy or somehow shake a double team with a canny move. Off the field, he's just as awesome. He's always smiling, always in a good mood, and you never get any of that superstar vibe from him. He's just "Ricky" to the guys.
Shea has been a hard worker who has done everything asked of him, but has not found any offensive success. He started at left back the first third of the season and was having an All-Star type season at that spot when Molino's injury forced Shea into the midfield to provide more threat. He's been gone a few times with the USMNT and would be at the Gold Cup now if not for his groin injury.
OaM: Are their any players from the 2014 USL roster that have made a splash in MLS this year?
TML: Right back Rafael Ramos, left back Luke Boden and defensive midfielder Darwin Ceren have all featured this season and have been among the team's best and most reliable players. Ramos is fiery and young, playing often with Portugal's U-20 national team. He's got great speed and is dangerous on the attack. Boden, suspended for Saturday due to two yellow cards on the weekend against FC Dallas, lacks pace but is intelligent in his movement and recovers well. He might be the team's best crosser of the ball. Ceren, an El Salvador international, has been one of the team's best players with his breakup play in the middle, unseating Amobi Okugo as a starter early in the year and never relinquishing the spot. He's had a couple silly fouls cost the team but has otherwise been outstanding.
OaM: Who's the one Orlando City player that Red Bull fans should keep an eye on this Saturday?
TML: The obvious answer here is Kaká because of all the things he can do, but I'll say rookie striker Cyle Larin, if he's able to get in the 18 after returning from the Canadian National Team. Larin was the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft this past off-season and has lived up to the billing. He has six goals and has gotten more and more dangerous as the season has gone on.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Corey Ashe (just acquired this week!), Seb Hines, Aurelien Collin, Rafael Ramos
Darwin Ceren or Lewis Neal (depending on if Ceren is back), Cristian Higuita
Carlos Rivas, Kaká, Eric Avila
Cyle Larin (if back) or Pedro Ribeiro
Prediction: I think the defense may leak a little with a new player inserted immediately into the lineup, so I'm predicting a high-scoring affair, with the Red Bulls (unfortunately) taking it, 3-2. I believe Kaká will try to assert himself after being sent off in his last game but the Red Bulls have a ton of weapons and we're thin at the back right now.