Two sides below the red line in the East and desperately in need of points to have a hope of getting back in contention will meet on Saturday night at Stade Saputo as Montreal host Orlando City SC. Orlando City will have two players coming off of appearances in the MLS All Star Match in Dom Dwyer and Kaka, who each played 45 minutes in the contest. Dwyer also scored the only goal for the MLS All Stars in regulation, drawing the host side level with Real Madrid in the 87th minute. Montreal star Ignacio Piatti also played 31 minutes in the mid-week exhibition match.
The matches this weekend will have an added wrinkle, with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) making its debut in MLS on Saturday across the league. It will be curious to see how VAR impacts the game in Montreal (no pun intended) but the VAR assignment allocation does not appear to favor the visitors, as "Red Card" Ted Unkel will be the eyes in the booth with his finger on the video replay button. In Orlando City's MLS history, whenever Ted Unkel is in a position to make calls, Orlando City has never won.
Players to Watch
For the hosts, Ignacio Piatti is always a dangerous player with the ball at his feet. He leads Montreal with 8 goals on the season, followed by Anthony Jackson-Hamel (5) and a 2017 newcomer to the club, Blerim Dzemaili. Dzemaili has scored 4 goals since joining the team in May, even though he has only played in 10 matches, and has only been on the pitch for five starts alongside Piatti. Dzemaili is also proving himself to be an effective playmaker, as he has already tied with Patrice Bernier for the lead in assists with the club at 4 each. Piatti and Hernan Bernardello have also each contributed 3 assists on the season for Montreal.
For the visitors, Orlando City fans will be waiting anxiously to see if Dom Dwyer can score his first goal in purple since the 2013 USL Cup final match, and they will be quite pleased if he is able to replicate his four-goal performance from that night. In the first match he played with Orlando City last week, his presence seemed to open up space for Cyle Larin to be much more active both on and off the ball, and that extra movement allowed Larin to be a rare creator for Kaka's equalizing goal against Atlanta. The fact that both Dwyer and Kaka played significant minutes in Chicago on Wednesday will make it interesting to see if Jason Kreis adds either one to his Starting XI or has them on the bench to begin the match. With points being a necessity in every match from now to the end of the season, it doesn't seem like Kreis can afford to rest any of his most reliable players for a full match, barring some kind of injury.
As a note, there is one new player who will not be available for the match. On Friday Orlando City announced that the club has signed Peruvian international Yoshimar Yotun from Swedish champion Malmo FF. In the press release announcing the signing, Orlando City stated that Yotun will not be available for the match in Montreal, but fans will be understandably excited and hopeful that the club's historic football DNA permeates both genders. After all, it was FC Rosengard--the team that started its existence in 1970 as Malmo FF Dam--that sent Marta to the Orlando Pride in April.
Sitting in 7th place in the East, Orlando City is desperate for points, and with only a few days of practice with the club, Dom Dwyer showed last week that he is already able to open up chances for the other strikers on the team. Montreal has struggled, and their defense has given up six more goals in two fewer matches than has Orlando City to this point in the season. But potential doesn't win matches, and Orlando City has struggled all season to put balls in the back of the net. With 23 goals through 22 matches, Orlando City is the third least productive offense in MLS, being outscored by every team in the league except for Colorado (20) and DC United (18) this season. And Montreal should be getting Ignacio Piatti back into the Starting XI alongside Blerim Dzemaili, and that tandem could prove to be a handful. And then, there's Ted Unkel in the VAR booth.
Road match, two stars playing significant minutes on Wednesday night, and an anemic 2017 offense don't lend one much optimism about Orlando City's chances. But as the John Belushi portrayed John "Bluto" Blutarsky famously said in the 1978 classic, Animal House:
Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
That's why I'm going to predict Orlando City will finally pull out of their midseason funk and start a march for the playoffs this weekend. I'm looking for a 3 - 1 victory in Montreal, and I'll go so far as to say I think Dom Dwyer gets his first goal for the club since that magical night in 2013.
What are your thoughts on the match--will Orlando City be able to take 3 points on the road for the first time since June 30? Or will the return of Piatti ignite and inspire Montreal to take all 3 points at home and jump start their quest to get back above the red line? Let me know in the comments below!