This week will be an interesting test for Orlando City as they go on the road for the first away match under new head coach Jason Kreis. The good news is that the team will have Cristian Higuita back from suspension. However, both David Mateos and Antonio Nocerino are suspended. Nocerino's suspension came after a review of the yellow card he received in the 33rd minute of the match against the Seattle Sounders last week. Upon further review the MLS Disciplinary Committee deemed that he had committed "violent conduct that endangered the safety of an opponent," according to a release from the team on Thursday.
Last week the team looked tired in the match against Seattle, and Coach Kreis indicated that he had been pushing the lads harder in practice than they are accustomed to playing and he thought they needed to have a higher level of fitness. It will be curious to see if another week of training will have the team looking even more exhausted, or if they will begin adapting to the more demanding schedule.
Some fans may be frustrated if it sounds like Coach Kreis is purposely putting more stress on the players physically now at a time when it is critical to win points to try to reach the playoffs, but in reality, the coach is in a no-lose situation. If he has been given the control a coach deserves over training and game day roster selection, he can find the individuals on the roster that show the quickest adaptation to his new style and tactics, which will help him decide who needs to be protected for next season, and he can say (without risking much argument from the fans) that the front office and previous coaching regime has failed to build a roster so far that can win consistently. I would like to see results this season (meaning reaching the playoffs), but I would prefer building a team that can have lasting success over a number of seasons.
Players to Watch
Chicago is mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, but we have seen how little that means this season. We have now played three teams at times they were struggling, including last week against Seattle. And all three times we have lost (at the Red Bulls and at Kansas City earlier in the season were the other two similar losses). And like those other struggling teams, Chicago does have its dangerous players. David Accam leads Chicago in goals scored on the season with five. And Accam already has broken hearts in Orlando earlier in the season when he outran the defense to make a lovely solo strike on a long counter-attack to help Chicago split the points with Orlando City at Camping World Stadium. Meanwhile, three players are tied on three assists each. Matt Lampson and Sean Johnson have almost evenly split duties in goal.
For Orlando City it will be interesting to see who gets in the starting lineup. Orlando Sentinel beat writer Alicia DelGallo reported earlier in the week that Jason Kreis was hopeful that three players who have missed time to injury may be available for selection on Sunday: Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding, and Kevin Molino. Ramos and Redding could bring some speed and more attentive play to the defense, and of course Molino shares the distinction of most assists with Kaka, while being second only to Cyle Larin in goals scored.
I know last week was a very disappointing result for OCSC fans and the team is a bit unpredictable at this point. However, I'm going to be bold and say that it will be an angry Orlando City team that takes the pitch on Sunday and we'll see a 3 - 0 victory. I'm not discounting Accam's ability to punish teams for lax defending, but I'm hoping that with some of the younger and swifter defenders back and available we can better neutralize his ability to get open looks at the net.
What about you? What is your prediction for the match? Do you think Orlando City can work their way back above the red line by the end of the season to make the playoffs, or do you think the change in coaches, tactics, and training regimen will prove too much for the players to overcome this season? Let me know in the comments below.