Tonight Orlando City faces off against New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium for a rematch of the 2 - 2 draw on April 17 at the Citrus Bowl. In that match the clubs had played to a 1 - 1 draw until stoppage time at the end of the match, and then during injury time both teams scored on controversial calls involving hand balls on Orlando City players, one which should have been called and was not, and another which should not have been called but was called anyway.
The match also comes just a day after Orlando City traded away Aurelien Collin, a player who was a crowd favorite for his tenacious style and energetic play in defense. However, a number of media outlets reported that sometime between the tail end of last season and the start of this season, he had fallen out of favor with Coach Adrian Heath. Those reports would appear to have been substantiated by the fact that Orlando City traded Collin to the New York Red Bulls for a 4th round draft pick in 2017, meaning they will not receive any players back in return right away. To me that says the club cared more about moving the player out than bringing any specific talent in. I won't speculate beyond that, because I like both Collin and Coach Heath, and I'm sad we won't see the 78 jersey again on the pitch this season in purple.
According to the MLS.com official injury report, New England is coming into the match more banged up than Orlando City. Chris Tierny, Steve Neumann, and Charley Davies are all completely out. Teal Bunbury is listed as Questionable, and Juan Agudelo is listed as having a hamstring strain but there is no indication of his status for the match.
For Orlando City, Conor Donovan is still listed as out with his torn ACL and Kaka's groin strain is listed, but as with New England's Agudelo there is no match status listed for the captain.
Orlando City fans will hope that Kaka is healthy for the match, as the team have still seemed to be a bit lost and listless without him on the pitch, and unable to sustain any kind of pressure and attack for the full 90 minutes. If the team does struggle without Kaka, I content it is a mental block, as the lads seem way too prone to try to pass the ball 60 yards down the pitch (which get intercepted way too many times) instead of building up steady pressure with shorter and more certain passes that help to build toward more patient scoring opportunities. Perhaps that is something we should expect from a young team, since Orlando City still has one of the youngest rosters in MLS.
Players to Watch
New England is still struggling to get their season going (and we all know how that turned out for Orlando City when they faced the Red Bulls last week, another struggling club). Even so, they have plenty of dangerous and talented players on the roster that any team has to watch carefully. Among these are midfielders Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez, both of whom were very active in the last match against Orlando City. And of course netminder Bobby Shuttleworth is playing very well this season, and has the distinction of having blocked two PKs in a single match earlier this season (against Philadelphia on March 20). The problem for New England seems to be in their defense in the field, and that's something Orlando City fans can also feel as frustration by counting all the minutes we have to watch purple jerseys down in front of Joe Bendik's net frantically trying to fend off shots that a good defense would never have allowed to get that deep into the scoring area.
For Orlando City, it's the same cast of characters we know and love. Cyle Larin and Kaka are always dangerous, and Joe Bendik has looked superhuman at times with the number of saves he has been called upon to make with a sieve-like defense allowing attack after attack after relentless attack every match all season long so far. Brek Shea is always exciting to watch and Adrian Winter almost always has a positive impact on buildups. Kevin Molino, healthy this season after missing most of last year with a devastating injury, is actually leading all players for Orlando City in MLS Fantasy Points. He's been productive, and recent acquisition Julio Baptista has proven a great get for the team, figuring in an assist on Cyle Larin's goal last week, and setting up an early PK goal for Kaka in the first minute of the last match against New England.
I desperately want Orlando City to win, and I believe Kaka will be able to play tonight, but I'm not sure that Coach Heath will start him. It's possible we will see Kaka come off the bench in the second half if the club needs some inspiration to maintain a lead or get back into the match. In nine matches so far this season, New England has only one win and six draws, while Orlando City has managed two wins and three draws in seven matches. On paper Orlando City seems like marginally the better team, but our lads proved just the antidote that the Red Bulls needed to get out of the funk that had dragged down the beginning of their season. I hope Orlando City's players learned a lesson about mistakes not to repeat from that match, but I won't be confident they have actually learned it until they show me by their performance on the pitch they know how to win consistently. I'm going to predict a draw for this match, 2 - 2. But I sincerely hope Orlando City has learned how to not turn over the ball so much and give Joe Bendik a better shot at a clean sheet so the team can bring back 3 points from the road.
What about you? What are you expecting from tonight's match? Do you think it will be a draw, or do you see Orlando City bringing home a win? Or do you think the problems that we saw at the Red Bulls last week will continue for the team at New England? Let me know in the comments below!