Orlando is well known for their offense, but four goals against this season is among the league's lowest. What makes the defense tick, and are there any weaknesses?
There are three aspects to Orlando's defensive performance so far this season. First, the cover provided by central midfielders Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren and Servando Carrasco has been excellent. They break up play throughout the middle of the park, force teams wide toward the fullbacks, and make life miserable for opposing attackers by being relentless for 90 minutes.
Second, the play of center backs Seb Hines and Tommy Redding has been very good. Hines did yield a penalty in the opener but aside from that he's been a workhorse and has been positionally sound. Some fans grumbled that he could have done more on a counter against David Accam, but the Chicago speedster is going to make a lot of center backs look silly 1v1, especially with that much space. Redding is a 19-year-old Homegrown Player who stepped in for David Mateos after the Spaniard suffered a hamstring injury late in preseason. The kid has performed very well, although he went off at halftime Sunday after a taking a shot to the head and his status for Friday is unknown at the time of this writing. The Hines-Redding partnership has worked better than anyone imagined, keeping former MLS All-Star Aurelien Collin on the bench.
Finally, Joe Bendik has been a much better shot stopper than anticipated. The last two weeks especially he's been on his game, denying Mix Diskerud, Diego Valeri, and Fanendo Adi -- the latter on a penalty attempt -- on wide-open chances. Bendik has come up big in the few instances the defensive midfield and back line have leaked.
Orlando played Sunday night against the Portland Timbers and then have to turn around and take the two hour flight to Philadelphia on Thursday for the Friday night match. What will Orlando do to combat possible fatigue?
Sleep on the plane? Honestly, I'm not sure fatigue should be an issue this early in the season. It's not exactly a Saturday-Wednesday or Sunday-Wednesday situation. The Lions played at home Sunday night and took Monday off. They'll likely train normally on Tuesday and Wednesday and have a light day on Thursday. Kaká would be the biggest worry, as he played 80 after not playing for a month.However, after he shifted to a false 9 following Cyle Larin's hamstring tweak, he conserved a lot of energy by basically standing in the center circle any time the ball was in Orlando City's defensive third. Orlando City should be OK on energy, but will the Lions suffer a letdown after such a big win over the defending champs? That's a legitimate question and a personal concern of mine.
Pedro Ribeiro was well liked here in Philadelphia, and everyone was disappointed when he was chosen in the Expansion Draft. How has he fit in Orlando's offense?
Last year he was sort of a utility infielder and he played well at times, but he certainly wasn't suited to playing as an isolated striker in a 4-2-3-1. He's not great with his back to goal and his lack of foot speed hurts his hold-up play. He was better in a midfield role. This year, he's found a niche as a central midfielder, where he really shined in preseason. He calls it his best position. He started the opener in that role and did his job fairly well. He did play striker late in the NYCFC game, but he honestly wasn't very good in that match, albeit in limited time.Sunday he didn't make the 18. Heath likes Ribeiro because of his versatility but if this team is healthy, Ribeiro is lucky to make the 18. He does, however, provide good depth across multiple positions.
Anticipated starting XI and key injuries
Ideally it will be Joe Bendik; Luke Boden, Seb Hines, Tommy Redding, Rafael Ramos; Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren; Kaká, Kevin Molino; Cyle Larin.
Unfortunately, Larin tweaked his hammy Sunday night and we aren't yet sure what his availability will be Friday. As mentioned earlier, Redding went off at halftime after not feeling well after a clash of heads. You generally don't mess with a hamstring with a striker whose game is predicated on speed and power, and you never mess with head injuries. Nocerino is still trying to gain full match fitness, although he was in the 18 Sunday (but did not play). In addition, we're not sure if recently signed Brazilian striker Julio Baptista will be ready to play yet. So there are a lot of variables. I'll put the worst-case scenario as Kaká reprising his role as a false 9 in this lineup:
Joe Bendik; Luke Boden, Seb Hines, David Mateos/Aurelien Collin, Rafael Ramos; Cristian Higuita, Servando Carrasco, Darwin Ceren; Kevin Molino, Adrian Winter; Kaká.