After an unexpected week off, Orlando City will play its second match of the season on Saturday night at Orlando City Stadium. The match comes in the midst of a weekend crammed full of local activities. In addition to the soccer match, there are first round March Madness games at the Amway Arena, the PGA's Bay Hill Classic is being played on the southwest side of town, the Winter Park Art Festival is in full swing, and the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race is also happening. Anyone who tells you they can't think of anything to do this weekend needs to be taken out and flogged with wet pasta noodles until they bleed marinara sauce.
Orlando City is still dealing with several injuries. In year three of the club, I think it may be time for someone in the front office to invest in some trainers who specialize in helping athletes avoid hamstring injuries because it seems that this club suffers far too many injuries of that type. This week it was reported that Carlos Rivas had picked up a mild strain to his hamstring in practice, in addition to the four players already on the league injury list with hammy injuries: Tony Rocha, Rafael Ramos, Kevin Alston, and Kaka. Also this week it was announced that defender Seb Hines underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, his fourth such procedure in his career.
Meanwhile, the visiting Philadelphia Union are dealing with injury issues of their own. According to the MLS injury report, defender Joshua Yaro (shoulder) and midfielder Maurice Edu (ankle/tibia) are both out. Listed as questionable by the same source are forwards Charlie Davies (ankle) and Jay Simpson (ribs), midfielder Ilshino (hamstring), and defender Ken Tribbett (Achilles tendon).
Players to Watch
For the visitors, forwards C.J. Sapong and Jay Simpson have found the back of the net, both scoring in last week's 2 - 2 draw against Vancouver. Midfielders Chris Pontius and Fabian Herbers had the assists on the match.
While there's been a lot of speculation around who will play in place of Kaka, I firmly believe that Giles Barnes has proven with his assist in the opener that he deserves the chance to get the nod. In fact, the way that Rivas, Barnes, and Cyle Larin combined on the winning goal in the season opener, it looked like all three of them had been playing together for several seasons instead of several days.
Speaking of Rivas, given the news this week about his hamstring, it's possible he will start the match on the bench or even not make a spot in the 18, depending on the severity of his injury. If he's unable to dress for the match, back-filling his spot on the bench could be new signee Danny Deakin, if Coach Jason Kreis decides to keep the same mix of position players in his 18 that he had on March 5. Starting in Rivas's place we could see Hadji Barry. And with Seb Hines out from his surgery, it's likely that Tommy Redding, fresh back from the U-20 CONCACAF Championship in Costa Rica, will take his spot in the lineup, but its unclear if he would get the start ahead of anyone that started the season opener.
And of course the club's MVP from 2016, goalkeeper Joe Bendik, will be back between the pipes. This week it was announced he had signed a three-year extension, which will keep him in Orlando until 2020.
In looking at the past six performances for the teams (going back to last season), Philadelphia is winless, with four losses and two draws. Meanwhile, Orlando City is on a string of three wins in a row, along with two losses and a draw in their prior three matches. Momentum and the home crowd should provide some edge for Orlando City, although having the last week off may have slowed their buildup to match fitness in comparison to the Union, who have another game under their belts. Nonetheless, I expect that the improved defensive form of the home team, and a freshly inspired Joe Bendik will help to keep Philadelphia off the board. Meanwhile, I think that Giles Barnes and Cyle Larin will combine again to find the back of the net, but I'm not sure who will have the assist or whether both of them will score. I'm going to make a bold prediction and say that Orlando City wins this match 2 - 0.
What about you? Do you think Orlando City will win the match? Who do you think will score for either team? Let me know in the comments below!