The Gold Cup break is over, Orlando City is back, and now the Lions can attempt to deal with their daunting July and August slate of games that includes nine (9) matches over a span of 32 days coming off the three and a half week break.
Two of those games are already in the books, with Orlando dropping the first game in D.C., 1-0, before grabbing all three points against a Columbus Crew team that continues to nosedive with a 2-0 victory.
Both of those games were away and now Orlando City heads into a two-game series with the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union this Wednesday at home and Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.
But before we get into those contests, let’s take a quick look back at the D.C. United and Columbus games with some takeaways from the Lions’ first two games to kick off the second half of the season.
1) The depth of this team is going to be crucial for success
Obviously, but seriously. Nine games over 32 days are nothing to take lightly and if Orlando City is going to be looking at any real chance of making the playoffs they’re going to have to make it through this congested schedule alive and well — and that’s going to take all 27 players on the active roster.
This international window offered up an opportunity to see how much the team can handle when key players are missing and for the most part they almost didn’t miss a beat. Without several international players — including starters like Sebastián Méndez and Will Johnson — the Lions won both U.S. Open Cup matches against USL Championship side Memphis 901 FC and New England Revolution, and despite losing to D.C. United on Wayne Rooney‘s wonder ball from beyond the midfield line, the Lions arguably out-played DCU throughout the night last Wednesday again without the internationals (and even an injured Dom Dwyer and Cristian Higuita).
Those guys are all back now (minus Higuita and João Moutinho, who is also day-to-day at the moment) and Orlando City is as close as it has been in a while to be at full strength.
Guys like Adam Grinwis, Danilo Acosta, Kamal Miller, and Benji Michel are going to continue getting their opportunities and they’re going to need to continue to step up and carry the momentum the Lions have been building over the last couple of months.
2) Tesho Akindele is quietly putting together a good season
Tesho Akindele‘s career-high for goals scored in a season is seven, which he set during his rookie campaign with FC Dallas in 2014. Through his first 13 games this season, Akindele is already one goal shy of tying that mark after grabbing his 6th goal of the season over the weekend against the Crew.
He’s quietly been one of the best offseason pickups throughout the league and is growing as an underrated value for the Lions this season with the six goals and one assist in 13 appearances (12 starts); 17 shots and 9 of those on target (that’s a 66% percent conversion rate on shots on target!).
Akindele trails only Nani, who has eight goals this season, for the 2nd most on the team (Dwyer and Mueller both have four).
Akindele does a lot of the same stuff that Cyle Larin did in purple. He’s not the most skillful forward, he’s not going to take players on 1-v-1 like Nani or Mueller, but he has good off-the-ball movement and is always putting himself in the right spot to find a shot or coast an easy finish from close range.
3) An Orlando City team that’s good at defending? Yeah, it’s true
One goal allowed in three road games. That’s incredibly impressive and something that seemingly is going unnoticed throughout MLS because Orlando isn’t LAFC or Atlanta. James O’Connor and his staff have done an amazing job re-building Orlando’s defense this season and the results are starting to show.
If you’re a fan of expected goals against, Orlando also ranks second in the entire league.
I haven’t exactly been the biggest fan of Lamine Sané this season, but he’s improved over the last few matches and has started to build a solid partnership with Robin Jansson. On top of that, the Lions’ shape has been great and the team defending is much better than it was last season.
Overall, the difference is night and day.
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