Tonight Orlando City's MLS side plays host to Toronto FC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. The focus this Saturday will be back on the pitch after last week's emotional match dedicated to remembering the 49 victims of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Of course that tragic event will remain a shadow on the city forever, but last week I don't think many fans were focused on the points that were at stake in the match; instead, the primary focus was on paying tribute to people whose lives were cut short by the violence on June 12 and responding to an ideology of hatred with a demonstration of love and unity.
Tonight, however, everyone in the stadium will be very much focused on the three points on offer and we will all very much care about the result on the pitch. It will be a tough match, as Toronto comes into the night two points and three places above Orlando City on the Eastern Conference table.
Players to Watch
Toronto also bring in one of the most dynamic players in MLS, Sebastian Giovinco, who is a threat to find the back of the net every time he steps on the pitch. Giovinco comes into the match with 8 goals and 5 assists on the season, including having scored three game winners on the season.
Fortunately, two of Toronto's other major stars will be missing the match. Jozy Altidore is out due to a hamstring injury suffered last month, and Michael Bradley will be taking the pitch for the third place game in the Copa America tournament tonight against Colombia. This is a rare case where I will wish Bradley a win on the same night his club team plays Orlando City, since he will be representing the National Team and not his club.
Another fortunate thing for Orlando City is that Toronto have struggled to find goals this season. As a team they come into the match having scored only 15 goals in 14 matches, while their defense has been stingy and has only given up 15 goals as well. In goal, Clint Irwin has 40 saves on the season, but he has only faced 58 shots, meaning his back four have played well to protect him on the year.
Looking at the Orlando City roster, Coach Adrian Heath told the media earlier this week that he expects Kaka, Darwin Ceren, and Rafael Ramos to be available for possible insertion in the starting XI for tonight, which is welcome news to Orlando City fans and to other players. Cristian Higuita always seems to be a better passer and a sharper player when Ceren is on the pitch with him, and everyone seems to benefit from the leadership and presence of Kaka.
Cyle Larin enters the match leading Orlando City with 7 goals and 3 assists, while Kevin Molino has 6 goals and 3 assists to his credit. And while Kaka has only scored 2 goals on the season, his influence is evidenced by leading the team with 5 assists on the season.
As a team, Orlando City have managed to score 25 goals on the year, but the defense has not always played as well as they could, as they have given up 23 goals on the season. In goal, "Super" Joe Bendik has 49 saves, but he has been subjected to 74 shots on goal. Only Vancouver's David Ousted (89 shots on goal) and Real Salt Lake's Nick Romando (76 shots on goal) have been punished with a more porous defensive line than Bendik.
It was clear after last week's match that Orlando City coach Adrian Heath was very disappointed that the lads gave up the equalizer to San Jose at the death in stoppage time. The players, I think, also felt like they let down the fans, although I noticed nearly zero complaints on the usual social media feeds in the wake of the match, as everyone was rightly focused on the healing and the remembrance of the lives lost on June 12. I hope that frustration by the team and coach on the night was translated into focus on the practice pitch this week and will result in more energy and better play in the match tonight. I'm looking for Kaka to be involved in at least one goal, and I predict a 3 - 1 win for Orlando City tonight. I know that sounds confident, but I believe this team is going to use the internal disappointment from last week to rally and put their sights firmly on the playoffs from here to the end of the season.
What about you? What do you think tonight's result will be? Do you think Orlando City will win, or are you less certain of victory? Let me know in the comments below!