Eugene Rupinski, Brotherly Game) Having Kaka out is a big blow to the team. How will Orlando City be different without their leader, and who starts in his place?
Michael Citro, The Mane Land) Without the captain, Orlando City is not as good in possession. When you lose your best possession guy and passer, that’ll happen. He also takes defensive attention away from the strikers, so that’s a big loss offensively. I think we’ll see Giles Barnes in the starting lineup but Matias Perez Garcia taking the No. 10 role within the team. Alternately, Barnes could play up top with Cyle Larin due to a hamstring issue for Carlos Rivas, who is listed as day-to-day (aren’t we all?).
Tactically, Orlando City may sit back and rely more on the counter, although Jason Kreis will certainly want to see more possession than the club had against New York City FC in the opener. Barnes has now been with the team weeks rather than days, so that might help. However, if he ends up playing up top with Larin, I’d look for Will Johnson to push into the midfield from right back, where he was covering for injuries in the opener. Donny Toia could switch over to right back if Kevin Alston isn’t deemed fit enough to go. That would push PC into the starting lineup at left back.
It’s all conjecture until we see the team sheet because the switch to a 4-4-2 this season is new for us and we’re not really too sure yet how Kreis views his depth at each position or how hesitant he’d be to switch back to a 4-3-2-1 based on the availability of personnel.
tBG) Describe to us what it means for Orlando fans to have a facility like Orlando City Stadium instead of playing in the old Citrus Bowl.
TML) It sounds trite, but the new stadium honestly feels like home. The artist formerly known as the Citrus Bowl never felt like an MLS venue, owing to its gargantuan size. On opening day, when the club drew more than 60,000 fans, that old building was loud and boisterous, but it honestly felt more like a novelty. For regular games, even 35,000+ crowds only filled the place halfway, so it lacked atmosphere despite the best efforts of a very passionate fan base.
The new stadium is loud and full, with an electric atmosphere, which feels nothing like the old place. Standing in the safe standing supporters section – affectionately known as The Wall – you get the feeling that the team is invulnerable. Even under NYCFC’s most desperate attacking soccer, with more than 60% possession, it felt like the visitors would need a lucky bounce or a penalty to get on the score sheet on March 5. Maybe that was part of it being opening day, but the defense felt like it would bend all day without breaking and you honestly feel like you’re part of that in Orlando City Stadium. So, to summarize, it means everything to have the new building at long last.
On top of that, it’s just a beautiful venue and it’s a pleasure to watch a game there.
tBG) Who is someone that perhaps flies under the radar with Orlando that Philadelphia Union fans will want to keep an eye on?
TML) The player that leaps to mind is Donny Toia. He’s a defensive-minded fullback who rarely does anything flashy but his relentless marking and pressure takes a lot of heat off the center backs. He’s good at turning flank attackers back toward their own goal line and preventing or deflecting crosses so that they don’t become a threat in the area. He also denies passing lanes well.
None of that is stuff that necessarily shows up in the box score in an overt manner. Against NYCFC he mostly kept Jack Harrison quiet and made only one mistake I saw, when he lost possession. Toia doesn’t get a lot of notice but I think if he plays well Orlando City’s chances of getting a result go up exponentially. Will Johnson did a lot of the same on the other side in Game 1, but he’s not a natural fullback and NYCFC chose to try to exploit him. He was mostly up to the task. It will be interesting to see if he gets another game at right back or if he slots back into his more familiar midfield role.
Injuries, suspensions, etc.: Kaka (hamstring), Rafael Ramos (hamstring), Tony Rocha (hamstring) are all likely out. Carlos Rivas (hamstring) and Kevin Alston (hamstring) are day-to-day. Are you noticing a pattern here? Seb Hines just had knee surgery and he’s out six weeks.
This is tough, but I’m going to take a guess we’ll see something like Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Will Johnson; Giles Barnes, Servando Carrasco, Antonio Nocerino, Matias Perez Garcia; Cyle Larin, Hadji Barry.
If Rivas can go, he’d replace Barry. If Alston can go, he might push Will Johnson into Carrasco’s spot.