Orlando City hits the road this weekend as the team heads to Illinois to take on the Chicago Fire Saturday at SeatGeek Stadium (1 p.m., My 65 / YouTube TV / ESPN+).
Orlando is going up against a lot.
The Lions, while coming off a season-opening draw against New York City FC this past weekend, haven’t beaten the Fire since 2015.
Orlando has gone winless in six straight MLS competitions, and are currently riding a three game losing streak against the Fire, including a pair of 4-0 defeats (both in Chicago) during that stretch.
The Fire, meanwhile, opened the season in Los Angeles this past weekend and despite getting on the scoreboard first in the early part of the second half, let in two consecutive goals to fall to the LA Galaxy, 2-1.
A team with expectations of returning to the playoffs this season, they’ll be hunting for a win in their home opener on Saturday, regardless of what Mother Nature throws their way.
“I think they [Chicago] played very well to be honest,” James O’Connor said of Chicago’s game against LA. “I think they were very unfortunate not to get more out of the game. So it’ll be a tough game, obviously Chicago at home they’re playing well and be full of confidence.”
Here’s the weather forecast for Saturday, according to Weather.com.
“Rain showers in the morning will evolve into a more steady rain in the afternoon. High 46F. Winds ESE at 15 to 25 MPH. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 MPH.”
Projected Starting XI
Expectations are that we’ll see a fairly similar — if not exactly the same — starting lineup from O’Connor this weekend compared to the group he trotted out last weekend against NYCFC.
Lamine Sané remains out on a week-to-week basis with a calf injury, and there hasn’t been any strong indications that Carlos Ascues is getting thrown into the starting mix just yet, so it’s possible we see the same back line this weekend, with Kamal Miller featuring again after making his MLS debut in Week 1. Ruan is also back to full training, but might need a little bit of catching up before he gets back into the starting lineup as well.
The main talking points around the club this week has been the fitness levels of both Dom Dwyer and Nani, who both played the final 20-plus minutes of Orlando’s 2-2 draw with NYCFC, which according to O’Connor after the match was more than he anticipated the two Designated Players contributing.
O’Connor told Pro Soccer USA that he’s trying to be “sensible” when it comes to integrating the two into the starting lineup, making it all the more likely that we won’t see either named to the Starting XI this week, but more likely when the Lions return home next weekend to host the Montreal Impact.
Keys to the Game
1) Making the most of their opportunities
One of the biggest things that came out of Orlando’s season opener was their lack of quality opportunities in comparison to how much possession they carried throughout the match.
This week, they’ll be in a much tougher spot on the road in less-than-ideal weather conditions that’ll likely keep the team bunked down and on their back foot for much of the match, if Chicago comes out and tries to be aggressive with possession and work through the midfield. That means Orlando would be limited to the amount of time they spend on the ball and the quality chances they produce, making it more important than ever to be clean, clinical, and effective when it comes to play in the final third. Their best breaks may come on the counter, but that won’t leave them any room to be less than effective with the ball.
2) Don’t give Chicago the space to be creative
This was another big problem I saw out of the NYCFC game, and it’s something that could hurt the Lions more so this weekend because Chicago is much more loaded in their front six than NYCFC.
Przemyslaw Frankowski, Djordje Milhailovic, Nemanja Nikolic, Aleksandar Katai, Dax McCarty, and Bastian Schweinsteiger just to name a few, that’s what they’ll be able to throw at Orlando — not to mention C.J. Sapong and Raheem Edwards possibly coming off the bench. The Lions need to do a better job this week at closing down in the final third when any of those guys have the ball at their feet, or else Orlando will find themselves chasing this game all afternoon.
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