Orlando City are hoping last week’s 3-1 loss at home to the Montreal Impact was really a one-off game as the Lions return to the field on Saturday to take on the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
The Lions (0-1-2, two points) showed progress through their first two games of the 2019 season — both draws — but took a big step back last week when Montreal scored back-to-back goals in a span of 90 seconds early in the first half and they weren’t able to recover, dropping all three points for the first time in three games.
After the match, both head coach James O’Connor and the players said that the performance came out of left field and that it’s not the kind of play Orlando City fans should expect moving forward.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to make sure the players don’t get too down over one performance because when we look at the course of the preseason, and we look at the course of the first two games, the energy and the enthusiasm from not just the players but everybody around the place, was really positive,” O’Connor said before Wednesday’s training session. “I refuse to let one game now take that away. And I think the danger is because you have something like that, it becomes bigger than it needs to be.”
After being eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Concacaf Champions League, the Red Bulls (1-0-1, 4 points) can finally start putting their focus solely into MLS.
The Red Bulls opened the season with a 1-1 draw in Columbus and are coming off a 4-1 win at home over the San Jose Earthquakes this past week in their second game of the 2019 campaign.
The Lions and Red Bulls have split their season series into each of the last two seasons, with the home side coming out on top in each of the last five games. That’s obviously not great news for Orlando, the away side in this matchup. The most recent meeting between the two, also in New Jersey, ended with the Red Bulls as 1-0 winners in the 2018 regular season finale.
The Red Bulls come into this match without one of their stars from last season, however, Kaku, as well as defender Aaron Long (international duty) and potentially Tim Parker, who reportedly rolled an ankle in the win over San Jose and is hopeful to still be available this weekend, meaning we could also see Amro Tarek get the start against his former club.
Projected Starting XI
Will Johnson (concussion), Tesho Akindele (hamstring), Kamal Miller (international duty), and Sebastian Mendez (international duty) are all unavailable for selection this weekend, meaning O’Connor will have to do some shifting around in the starting lineup.
The Lions played a 5-3-2 in each of their first two games but changed things up against Montreal and switched to a 4-3-3. If they stick with either of the two, it means we could see two new starters in the defensive midfield, with Uri Rosell and Cristian Higuita. O’Connor could also opt to use just one and put Chris Mueller back into the lineup as well. If there’s one thing we do know, it’s that we really don’t know anything. O’Connor tends to be a bit unpredictable at times — which isn’t always a good thing.
Keys to the Game
1) Keep an eye on the box. All four of New York’s goals against San Jose came from inside the six-yard box, which is going to mean Orlando having to put a focus on tight defending and limiting space inside the penalty area. The Red Bulls have a strong handful of scoring depth, including Bradley Wright-Phillips and Alex Muyl. It’ll be a tough test for a defensive core in Orlando still trying to find cohesiveness.
2) Limiting the turnovers. The Red Bulls excel at pressing high and aggressively right from the start, creating turnovers, and capitalizing on those opportunities. Against Montreal, Orlando made too many costly turnovers and was putting themselves in bad spots all afternoon. Limiting the turnover is going to be important if want to break the streak and come back home with a point (or more) in hand.
I said it on this week’s episode of the Orlando Soccer Show and I’ll say it again, this time in writing: I can’t predict an Orlando City win if I haven’t seen them win yet. So, do it first. That said, 2-0 Red Bulls is my prediction.
For more up-to-date stories, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer