The 2017 MLS Season kicks off for Orlando City in the new stadium this afternoon against a familiar opponent: NYCFC. It will be the second time in three years the two teams open their season against each other in Orlando.
All time, Orlando City holds an edge over NYCFC 3 - 1 - 2, and OCSC has never lost to their 2015 expansion sister club in Orlando. We hope that continues today, and a win would result in no worse than a tie at the top of the Eastern Conference table to start the season.
Faces Familiar and New
Some of the same cast of characters is back for both teams, but there are some significant changes to both rosters. For the visitors, Frank Lampard has retired and USMNT regular Mix Diskerud is no longer with NYCFC. And of course the home side will be be without both Brek Shea and Kevin Molino, who were both dealt to other MLS clubs in the last few weeks.
But among the returning players are some critical pieces. 2015 Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin is back for Orlando City, as is the Captain, Kaka. And NYCFC brings back the "maestro" Andrea Pirlo as well as the defending 2016 MLS MVP, David Villa.
In terms of new faces on both rosters, both clubs have NASL connections from the state of Florida. NYCFC has added Ben Sweat from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, while Orlando City added Victor "PC" Giro from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. And both teams have imported talent from the UK. Orlando City brought in Jonathan Spector from Birmingham City during the offseason, while NYCFC has acquired Yangel Herrera from Manchester City for a season-long loan. That is not really a surprise since Manchester City's ownership is also involved in the ownership of NYCFC.
NYCFC knows enough about OCSC to realize that this team never gives up, and they have experienced opening day mania in Orlando before. But today's home opener will be special, as it marks the christening of the new Orlando City Stadium. While the size of the crowd won't match the 65,000 + that greeted both teams on opening day in 2015, I am told by friends who attended the Kids vs. Pros match on Thursday that even with a small crowd the noise generated from the Supporters end was impressive, and I have to believe that a sellout crowd will create a deafening and intimidating atmosphere for any visiting team.
While all matches against NYCFC seem to be challenging, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the home pitch advantage for Orlando City will help them do something they have yet to do in their MLS history: register an opening day win. I will call for a 2 - 1 victory, with both Carlos Rivas and Cyle Larin finding the back of the net and Kaka getting at least one assist on the day. For the visitors, I think the goal will come on a strike where Andrea Pirlo feeds a long-range pass from near the top of the NYCFC penalty area to David Villa well beyond the halfway line. And I'm not saying that those predictions have anything to do with my Fantasy MLS squad, but I'm not saying they don't, either.
What about you? What do you predict for the outcome of today's match? Do you think the new stadium will help Orlando City start the season with a win, or do you think the roster changes in the offseason will hurt the chances of the team to get off to a quick start this season? Let me know in the comments below!