tBG) How has the season gone for Orlando City in contrast to the expectations in the beginning of the season?
TML) I think it's gone almost entirely according to expectations, but instead of being the "inconsistent expansion team" week to week, we've actually seen a prolonged run of good form, followed by a horrible July. You'd expect more ups and downs but we got a lot of up and then an extended down turn, just when we started thinking things like what home field would be like in the playoffs. It goes to show you this is a tough league to be successful in and even when things are going well, they can turn on you in a hurry.
Overall though, I think we see the team in roughly the spot where we expected, which is fighting it out with a handful of teams for one of the last few playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
tBG) Most everyone is familiar with Kaka, Brek Shea, and Cyle Larin. Who are some players that Union fans should know about?
TML) The dynamic midfield duo of Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita are unsung heroes on this team. Ceren is a USL holdover and El Salvador international and Higuita is a 21-year-old Colombian from Deportivo Cali. We thought the two of them would fight it out to play alongside Amobi Okugo this year but both have played so well they made Okugo expendable. They are the kinds of players who go hard for 90 minutes, get after opponents and basically make life miserable for attackers trying to get into the final third. With Shea being out due to sports hernia surgery, the left side has been by committee, and two guys who have both done well there are young DP Carlos Rivas (also from Deportivo Cali) and left back Luke Boden. Rivas has electric speed, great crossing ability and a thunderous left foot and he likes to shoot from everywhere. Boden is a steady, smart player who is adept at whipping in crosses.
tBG) How are ex-Philadelphia Union players Danny Mwanga and Pedro Ribeiro doing for OCSC?
TML) Ribeiro has been outstanding in whatever capacity he's played. He's been a striker or a midfielder at times and he has a great chemistry going with Kaká. They have that Brazilian connection and really work well together in the attacking third. Additionally, Ribeiro has shown great ability to score timely goals and to force opponents into own goals, which he has done to both Tyler Deric and Adailton this season. He hustles and works hard which often (but not always) makes up for his lack of pace.
Mwanga, on the other hand, has had trouble making the 18. He really doesn't seem to be fitting in well at all and when he's played he's not contributed much, aside from scoring the winning penalty at Charleston in U.S. Open Cup play (as the 10th shooter -- seriously, he went last of all the field players).
tBG) What should Union fans know about the supporter's culture in Orlando?
TML) Orlando City fans are passionate, loud, and they don't stop for 90 minutes. They were amazing on Saturday night against Columbus, really impressing with their volume and enthusiasm. It was one of the smaller crowds we've seen due to the weather but it sounded like one of the largest. They get to the match very early and tailgate all day. As always, when you have a group that size and maybe add a few adult beverages, a few bad apples can make the whole bunch look bad, but it's important to note that the supporters are overwhelmingly good, positive people who represent the club well.
Predicted lineup: I think we'll see a repeat of Saturday's 4-3-3 unless some guys get healthy quickly.
Corey Ashe, Aurelien Collin, Seb Hines, Tyler Turner
Cristian Higuita, Servando Carrasco, Darwin Ceren
Luke Boden, Cyle Larin, Kaká
Predicted score: 3-2 to Orlando City. The team has been conceding way too often of late, but they also enter Wednesday's match with eight goals over the last two games.