This year is going to be one of those years when I have little time outside the weekend to write my previews, so my Starting XI predictions are likely to be a bit off after news filters out during the week.
Instead of editing my post that I wrote last Sunday and published yesterday, I’m just going to update my Starting XI prediction in this post.
Starting XI Redux
If this lineup looks familiar, then it should—it’s the same Starting XI that Coach James O’Connor trotted out last week in the opener. There’s a few reasons why I liked this lineup more and more as the week unfolded.
DPs not yet ready - you don’t have to read too far between the lines with Coach O’Connor, and he was pretty clear in interviews this week that he thinks we need to be careful with how we manage minutes for both Dom Dwyer and Nani. Nani doesn’t have any injuries per se, but he’s adjusting to a new league and I think Coach wants to put him in situations where he can change the game and the rest of the team can begin trusting his leadership on the pitch. Dwyer is still recovering from a quad injury, and it sounds like O’Connor believes a lot of our injury troubles in this club in the past have come from rushing players back on the pitch too soon.
Youth and Exuberance are Working - There’s a lot of youth and inexperience on the pitch in key places, especially at the left back. But Kamal Miller did a pretty good job for his first MLS start when facing the threat that NYCFC brings. CJ Sapong will be a tough test, and the lad is only going to learn how to be a better defender by facing down those tough challenges.
Johnson was underappreciated last week - You remember that breakaway chance Moralez had in the second half last week. We all credit Brian Rowe with a great 1-on-1 save as we should, but Will Johnson actually helped to cut off an angle for Moralez to shoot. Had Johnson not been breathing down his neck, Moralez could have taken a bit more time and been a little craftier with his shot to try to fake out which side he was going to shoot. But Johnson hurried his shot, just like a blitzing linebacker can rush a quarterback into throwing a bad pass in football. I’m a bit sore with Johnson over the domestic issue a couple of seasons back, and he’s made his share of mistakes on the pitch. But if he has better players around him, maybe having less of the pitch to cover will improve his effectiveness.
Mueller Needs to Trust Himself - we all saw last season how Chris Mueller was one of the least selfish players on the pitch. Sometimes he looks to pass too often instead of looking for the open shot. In pre-season he looked like he had gained some confidence but last week he became a bit more hesitant. His teammates need to build him up and encourage him to grow into that number 9 kit, because once he starts challenging keepers on every possession he gets inside the box, that kid is going to be something special. I hope that he can get some of that encouragement on the pitch during matches.
Tesho’s Talented Toes - Tesho Akindele may be the best partner that any of our players on the pitch can have at the top of the formation. In pre-season he and Mueller were combining for goals all over the yard, and in last weeks opener he was the perfect outlet for Dom Dwyer to send a cross to and score the equalizer. All the reports I have read say that other players on the squad love playing with him, and that he enjoys helping the team by creating, scoring, or just being a decoy that opposing defenses need to consider a threat.
Of course this lineup may not be correct either, but I think it has a better chance than the one I predicted last Sunday when i wrote my match preview post. i’m still predicting a draw—and that has as much to do with my “prove you’re better this year” approach to Orlando City as it does with the fact that MLS has one of the most lopsided home pitch advantages in all of pro sports leagues.