It feels like an eternity since we've last seen New York City take the field. The Blues saw their playoff hopes all but extinguished in a crushing, last-gasp loss to DC United; a fate made official when the Montréal Impact beat the Colorado Rapids the following week.
So, as New York City prepares to take on Orlando tonight, you'd think that this game is essentially meaningless. Au contraire, mes amies. While New York City might not be making post-season plans, there are still two games left to play. There's a lot to be said to ending the season on a high note, for starters.
For another, now that the Blues don't have the pressure of a playoff chase on their shoulders, head coach Jason Kreis could take this opportunity to run out some of the team's younger players, getting them valuable game-time experience. We already know what we get with Villa, Lampard, and Pirlo.
What we haven't seen, by and large, is New York City playing with a young lineup. Part of that is because the roster itself is one of the league's oldest. But necessity played a factor in that as well. That necessity no longer exists in such an urgent fashion.
For that reason, I'd love to see Kreis trot out a lineup like this:
Thanks to injury -- and the need to play all three DPs, for a variety of reasons -- New York City fans haven't really had the chance to see some of the Blues' younger contributors. Why not now? Pirlo, after all, will likely not play tonight thanks to injury. Kreis might as well give Lampard and, especially, Villa, a breather.
Meanwhile, thanks to yellow card accumulation, both Jason Hernandez and RJ Allen are suspended for tonight's game. Unless Shay Facey and Andoni Iraola have recovered fully from their muscular injuries, we could be looking at a fairly makeshift back four tonight. For that reason, I've penciled in Chris Wingert at left center back and Jeb Brovsky at right back. That said, if Facey is ready to go, then Wingert will likely lineup at left back, pushing Angelino to right back.
Throughout the season, most of New York City's most potent moments have featured their young guns. It's time to see what they bring to the table over the course of a full game -- particularly Shelton and Mullins. Those two have impressed in limited service over the course of the season.
As for Orlando, here's whom I expect we'll see:
Orlando's sometimes gone with three at the back, but I expect a standard 4-2-3-1 lineup from them. Neither Brek Shea nor Kakà will be available for the Lions. The Brazilian legend is suspended for tonight's game after accumulating too many yellows, as is Shea.
However, New York City will still have to contend with the all-but-certain MLS Rookie of the Year, Cyle Larin. Larin, who's already set the rookie record for most goals with 15, torched the Blues for a hat trick in the team's last meeting. With a playoff berth on the line, he'll be looking to add to that total. Jefferson Mena and Wingert, especially, will have to communicate in order to keep Larin in check.
That will be no easy task in a heaving Citrus Bowl, with excess of 40,000 expected for the final home game of the season in Orlando.
HOW TO WATCH
The game will be the final Viernes de Fútbol this season. That's right: we're on UniMás! 7 p.m. sharp, folks. Click here to find out how to watch UniMás in English. Streaming is available here (deportesenvivo.univision.com). Don't know if you've got UniMás? Here are the channel listings for cable providers in the NYC area:
- Cablevision/Optimum: 229 or 1065 or 775
- Charter: 273 or 870
- Time Warner Cable: 444 or 959
- Verizon FIOS: 1524 or 1539
It's also available over-the-air on WFUT 68. As ever, we'll be live-tweeting.