A rivalry gets renewed this weekend when Orlando City welcomes New York City FC to Central Florida to open up the 2019 Major League Soccer season on Saturday afternoon at Orlando City Stadium (2:30 p.m. ET, Univision Deportes / Twitter).
It’s game No. 1 in the Luiz Muzzi era and the start of James O’Connor’s first full season at the helm of Orlando City, and both men are hoping to start the new campaign off on the right foot after seeing Orlando crash to its worst finish in MLS last season, another year leaving the Lions on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.
For the third time in five seasons, the Lions will open the season against NYCFC. The expansion newcomers opened their MLS lives against each other in 2015, finishing with a 1-1 draw at Camping World Stadium, then met again in 2017 to open Orlando City Stadium with the Lions winning that match up 1-0.
All-time, Orlando has yet to lose to New York City, sitting with a 5-5-3 record against the Pigeons.
From New York’s point of view, Saturday is all about quieting the doubters who think this might be a rough year in the Bronx after losing David Villa in the offseason and closing out 2018 with a disappointing playoff exit and just three wins in their final 13 regular season matches. Preseason predictions for the club have them as high as top 3 in the East and as low as missing the playoffs altogether for the first time since 2015.
For a team that struggled on the road last season under head coach Dome Torrent, a season-opening win over Orlando would be a pretty positive start for the season,
Projected XI and Injury Notes
Projected XI — 5-2-1-2 (left to right): Brian Rowe; Danilo Acosta, Lamine Sane, Alex De John, Shane O’Neill, Kyle Smith; Sebastian Mendez, Uri Rosell; Sacha Kljestan; Nani, Tesho Akindele
Both Dom Dwyer and Nani are available for selection this weekend, although neither are a lock to be in the starting lineup. Nani, while in good health, just received his paper work to play this week and hasn’t done more than but a few training sessions with the squad, while Dwyer missed all of the club’s preseason friendlies due to injury.
Nani seems more likely to start at this point, while it’s worth betting that we’ll see an appearance from Dwyer off of the bench.
Carlos Ascues has also been dealing with issues this preseason, but is also healthy now and ready to play. The only known holdouts right now are right back Ruan (hamstring) and goalkeeper Adam Grinwis (concussion).
Key to the Game
This sounds obvious, but strong center back play will be a key for Orlando City in this match-up. Orlando’s best success in the past against NYCFC has been when the center backs were able to effectively shut down David Villa and force play out to the wings, were NYCFC weren’t as strong.
Now, Villa obviously isn’t with NYCFC anymore but the case remains the same. They’ll try to play through the middle with Maxi Morales and Alexandru Mitriță, their big winter signing.
If Orlando can jump out to an early lead and lock it down defensively, they’ll be able to sail to a cool three points on opening day.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, NYCFC 0
Orlando City fans are hungry for some success and the stadium is going to be rocking on Saturday. I think Orlando jumps out to an early lead to keep the momentum and seals it late with a second goal from Dwyer off of the bench. You heard it here first.
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