There's not a lot of history for either team going into this match. Orlando City is practically a brand new squad for 2018 after losing their top three scorers and top two assist leaders from 2017. And Minnesota United is still a squad under construction after an inaugural season in which they struggled. Still, we'll try to divine what the teams will do on Saturday and try to find some chinks in the armor that an opponent could exploit.
Minnesota was the better team in the passing game of their match against San Jose last week, completing 543 passes to the Earthquakes 407 completions. They also held the possession advantage in the match (57.3% to 42.7%). But that advantage was earned in the second half when the team was already down 2 - 0. They would eventually fall to 3 - 0 after the 59th-minute goal by Danny Housen before Kevin Molino recorded a pair of goals after the 80th minute to make the scoreline look respectable.
The first half saw Minnesota rely on occasional counterattacks to try to break through San Jose's offense, but they otherwise played on their heels most of the half. United played much more in the attacking half during the second half and made the majority of their 15 shots on the night in the final 45 minutes of the match. So it appears that Minnesota's fitness level is just fine, as they had the energy to win the second frame against the home side. Orlando City will need to be very attentive for the full 90 minutes and do their best to match the second half energy of United.
From watching Minnesota's first match against San Jose, United look like they have a leaky defensive back line. In the 27th minute they left San Jose's Danny Hoesen open at the top of the penalty area, and a quick cross from Valeri Qazaishvili was well struck with the inside of the right foot and sent curling into the right back corner of the net. The immediately on the ensuing kickoff, Minnesota was caught napping and surprised by an attentive press from San Jose with the ball deep in United's defending third. An attempt to clear bounced off the leg of an Earthquakes defender and left the home side with a 3 - 2 advantage deep in the attacking end. Before the visitors could recover, the ageless Chris Wondolowski had crossed the ball all the way to Qazaishvili, who put the second goal into Minnesota's net in the 28th minute of the match. Had the ball bounced more kindly for the home side, the Earthquakes could have had two more goals by the 35th minute, as a sliding Hoesen missed the ball by a foot with an open goal in front of him, and another shot by Quintana pinged off the left side goalpost instead of going into the net.
By forcing the attack and keeping pressure deep in the attacking end, Orlando City could possibly catch Minnesota out and exploit the disorganized back line for a quick strike and an easy goal.
Judging from the opening match of the season, possession and passing will be two of the hallmarks of Orlando City SC throughout the 2018 campaign. In the opening match, which the Lions played down a man for nearly 60 minutes, the Lions held possession nearly 60% of the time and completed both a higher raw number of passes (462 to 329) and a higher percentage of passes (81% to 75%). Team speed is also a hallmark of this squad. Up and down the pitch, the players are very active off the ball, racing the length of the field and covering sideline to sideline in order to stretch the opponent and find lanes for passing and shooting.
With Sacha Kljestan and Josue Colman out, the offense appears to be running through the fulcrum of Justin Meram. Meram was in the formation at the forward position to start the match, but after the team went down a man, he dropped a little further back in the formation and was a catalyst to push the ball forward time and time again, creating chances for himself and finding open teammates. Meram's veteran leadership makes him well suited for this role, and the youthful energy of so many others in the attacking part of the formation means that opponents will have to be wary of balls flying at the goal from all angles.
What young players lack is experience, and wily veterans can exploit that. For example, it's apparent that MLS rookie Chris Mueller is not used to the physical style of play in the pros yet. He clattered to the turf after suffering forearm shivers and over-the-back collisions several times in the season opener. Sunday morning he probably felt like he had spent six minutes in a UFC Octagon instead of 60 minutes on a soccer pitch.
There will also be one change to the starting lineup out of necessity. After PC was sent off with a red card in the 41st minute, Coach Jason Kreis will have to insert a new player into the Starting XI. How quickly that player manages to get into the flow with the rest of the starters may present an opportunity for an attentive opponent to exploit the change.
Tomorrow look for late-breaking news and updates for the week in a column that I'm calling Sub-in Notes this season.
What tactics do you expect to see from both sides on Saturday night?