Orlando City has surprised a few folks with a strong start to 2017. Buoyed by a passionate fan presence and a new stadium, the team has won both its opening home games of the new season. OCSC has been bolstered on the field by a few missing pieces in place to solidify the squad. The Red Bulls will have to come focused out of the gate if they look to grab points in Florida on Sunday.
I spoke with Michael Citro of The Mane Land to get his point of view for the warm-weather match-up:
Once a Metro: How has the team changed since the departure of Adrian Heath and entry of Jason Kreis?
The Mane Land: Orlando City has shifted from a 4-2-3-1 attacking style to more of a cagey 4-4-2 system where accountability is stressed. Players have the freedom to attack but must be mindful of their defensive responsibilities first and move into the attack as a unit, in order to maintain numerical advantages.
Although I think it’s still a work in progress, the team does look less shaky in defense than in the previous two years, however, the once-potent Lions’ attack doesn’t quite look to have the same bite that it had last year, when the team finished in the top three in goals scored. This may improve somewhat when Will Johnson can shift back to his midfield role (he’s been playing right back due to injuries at the position). In fact, when Johnson was moved to the midfield against Columbus, the team did start to generate more chances.
OaM: Are there any teeth to the Cyle Larin transfer rumors? What value would you see the team's agree upon?
TML: Cyle Larin isn’t a secret. You don’t just waltz into the top flight out of college and score 34 goals in two years and three games and remain anonymous. There have been scouts at games since about the time Larin became a starter. Europe is calling and it’s probably only a matter of when, not if.
That said, the Lions do have club option years on Larin beyond his initial contract. GM Niki Budalic seems very aware of Larin’s value. I’m honestly not sure what the tipping point for selling is, but I’ve been told the rumored $2.5 million numbers we’re hearing in the press won’t cut it. If Larin finishes in the 14- to 17-goal range for the third consecutive year, there will likely be some enticing offers. If he improves upon his previous efforts, the offers will probably be too good to ignore.
My feeling is that Cyle will be with Orlando City through the MLS season in 2017 and then we’ll see. I believe Larin’s preference is to go to England rather than some of the other locations that have been rumored to be interested in acquiring him. That may play into the decision, ultimately. Orlando City has two aging Designated Players and if the club doesn’t get the right offer, it might be best to simply pay the Canadian international and give him the DP label in order to keep him in Orlando.
OaM: Who are some new players RBNY will have to watch out for?
TML: The obvious one is Jonathan Spector. He’s turned a wobbly defense into a fairly sound one in relatively short order. It’s underrated how much new fullback Donny Toia has contributed to that and Toia plays alongside Spector, so having two solid defenders anchoring the left side has helped the team across the board. Teams have chosen to attack Will Johnson on the other side, which is natural since he’s not a fullback by trade, but he’s done a decent job over there.
Carlos Rivas isn’t a new player but has become a new starter. The Red Bulls got an early look at what Rivas could do in that 5-2 Orlando win at Red Bull Arena in 2015. He’s since shifted from left wing to a second striker and for two of the team’s first three games he created all kinds of issues for the opposition’s back line. His speed and movement have opened up room for Cyle Larin and Rivas has assisted on two of Larin’s three goals and played a part in all of them. He’s still fairly young and inconsistency creeps in from time to time. He did some good things on the road at Columbus but he became too impatient at times and ruined a few promising attacks with ludicrous shot attempts from distance.
Giles Barnes has stepped in for Kaká (hamstring) and works well in possession down the left side with Toia. He has yet to score but did deliver a super cross to Larin for the game’s only goal against your hated rivals from NYCFC. Scott Sutter is a veteran English-Swiss right back who may see his first MLS start against New York. That would allow Johnson to replace (probably) Servando Carrasco and offer more going forward.
Injuries/suspensions: Kaká (hamstring), Jose Aja (hamstring), Rafael Ramos (hamstring), and Tony Rocha (hamstring) – see a pattern here? – are out, as well as Seb Hines (knee surgery).
Starting XI: I believe we’ll see the first Scott Sutter start this week. I’ll project a starting XI of (4-4-2): Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Tommy Redding, Scott Sutter; Giles Barnes, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Matias Perez Garcia; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.
Score: The Lions always seem to bring out the best in BWP and have won just once in the five meetings between the teams, so I’m going to say the offensive problems bite Orlando City this week and predict a 2-1 win for the visitors, which will no doubt cause me to say many words you can’t say on network television.
You can read Once a Metro’s answers to The Mane Land’s answers here.