We have six games left, we're seven points out of the playoffs, we have a whole mess of starters unavailable, it's an afternoon match, and we're wearing sunglasses...
Unfortunately, we are not in the middle of the Blues Brothers film, so I hold no sense of Hollywood optimism that Orlando City will be able to find another bit of magic like they did in DC last week to continue giving fans a flicker of hope that they can make the playoffs this season.
Atlanta comes into the match on very good form, having won two in a row and taking a result in five of their last six matches. That is one reason why they are above the line and six points ahead of any team that could threaten their standings in the playoffs. Another reason is the fact that they are scoring goals at a tremendous clip. If memory serves the midweek 7 - 0 victory over New England matches two MLS records--for margin of victory and for goals scored in a match. The scoring in that game brings Atlanta's season total to 54 goals, with a +22 goal differential. Those numbers are both good for second in MLS behind Toronto FC, which is the only team in the league who has secured a playoff spot. Another impressive feat is that Atlanta has played only 26 matches, the fewest number of matches played in the league.
Meanwhile, Orlando City is entering an off season that will mean a lot of soul searching is needed. Less than three years Orlando City announced with much fanfare the signing of Kaka as the first piece and central cog for their Orlando City side. As of this season, Orlando City has managed only two wins when the one time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner has started. He shows flashes of brilliance, but he more often gives away bad passes or has the ball stolen from his feet these days. It seems obvious that he is well beyond his prime and his role is best suited for someone coming off the bench, and he no longer deserves nor should command the level of salary he was paid when he first signed with the club.
I don't think there's a case that the team hasn't been trying hard, but I do think that there's still a bit of over-reliance by the other players on Kaka as the primary playmaker on the team, and because they try to feed the ball through him the team's attacks get disrupted too much. As much as I like Kaka as a player and as wonderful as he seems to be off the pitch and in the locker room as a leader for the team, I think it's time for the team to have a serious discussion about moving him off the roster and into the front office if he still wants to maintain a role with the club. Otherwise, it might be time to thank him for his contributions here in Orlando and let him return to his family in Brazil.
Obviously, then, the team would need to go out and find a new primary playmaker, either by signing one or finding one somewhere within the organization. I'm certain that I am in the minority within the fanbase to suggest such a dramatic change in the team, but the results don't lie. The best period for the team this season was the opening stretch of matches when Kaka was unavailable due to injury, and the most recent win against DC also came when Kaka started the match on the bench, and the team was unable to put any goals on the board after he came into the game. It's time for fans to grow up and realize that blind loyalty to a player is irrelevant and only the results for the crest matter. When someone becomes a liability to getting results, it's time for the club to show them the door and make room for someone who is going to help the team win.
Getting back to today's match, one bit of good news is that Jonathan Spector had a full week of training and could be available for selection today, according to news reports. The team will need its best defenders on the pitch to slow down Atlanta's potent attack. Another bit of good news is that Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin finally teamed up to create a goal in the win over DC United. That's something Orlando City fans have hoped to see, and it would be wonderful to see more of that blossoming partnership in the match today in Atlanta.
Balancing that good news are the suspensions. Kaka, Seb Hines, and Servando Carrasco are all suspended for the match today. Meanwhile, Atlanta United also has two players out. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is out on suspension and Greg Garza is out with an injury.
Still, I'm not sold that Orlando City has figured out their problems yet, and I can't predict a victory with any confidence. Unfortunately I have to say I think Atlanta will win this one 3 - 1, which will all but eliminate Orlando City from playoff contention.
What are your thoughts on the match? Do you think Orlando City will be able to string together a second victory in a row? Or do you expect that Wednesday night's victory for Atlanta is a signal they have reached peak form just in time to charge into the playoffs? Let me know in the comments below!