New York City have returned Stateside from a successful visit to Albion. Now the season looms - maybe.
That's right: things are real now. Real, like a five-alarm headache real. Like Manny Pacquiao fighting Floyd Mayweather real.
[SIDEBAR: Can we stop pretending for a second that this is the 21st century version of Ali-Frazier? It's that only if we turn back the clock to somewhere between 2009 and 2011. But Mayweather ducked Pacquiao, until he calculated that the Pac-man was so slowed by age and the cumulative effects of fighting that he posed little threat to Mayweather. We honor Ali-Frazier because they didn't duck each other. Ali may have been on the downslope of his career, but he answered the bell. Mayweather only answers to the cash register's bell. That's why he's fighting Pacquiao now. OK, I'm done.]
Anyway, you get the point. Things are real-ish. Tonight's game isn't just against any MLS team. New York City squares off against fellow expansion club Orlando City in the second game of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. Tonight is when we should see whom head coach Jason Kreis deems worthy of being in the starting XI.
The team is rolling deep into this pre-season tourney: five goalkeepers (five!), eight defenders, ten midfielders, and five forwards, for a total of 28 players. We have some idea of what the defense and forward lines look like; there's much less certainty about what shape the midfield will take.
You can add the goalkeeping situation to that list; there's no real reason to take five goalkeepers with you unless you have serious questions about whether the ones you've looked at thus far can handle the job.
Josh Saunders started both games in England, but there's fair concerns about his mobility. Kreis wants to build possession and offense by playing from the back, but you need a ‘sweeper-keeper' in the mould of a Manuel Neuer to realistically do that, and that's not something Saunders has ever resembled.
Akira Fitzgerald was serviceable in his substitute stint against St. Mirren, but was sufficiently anonymous that Kreis chose to sub in Manchester City youth player Eirik Johansen in the second game, against Brondby.
Ryan Meara, meanwhile, is injured yet again - out with a torn meniscus for at least the next two weeks, if not longer. Were he healthy, he'd likely be the starter, but as it is, New York City would be rash fools to place any kind of trust in his ability to start soon, if at all. That's been the story with Meara, after all, for the last two years.
That uncertainty makes you wonder if New York City should've chosen someone like Zac MacMath in the expansion draft; but that's all in the past, never to be revisited. Now, all New York City can do is assess whether Eirik Johansen or draftee André Rawls can deputize as goalkeeper.
Regardless of the lineup questions, how do Kreis and the players feel about tonight's tilt? Let's hear from them.
Facing New York City is a confident, steady Orlando City squad that's had a good preseason thus far. Coached by Englishman Adrian Heath, Orlando City has been spoiling for a scrap with New York City ever since their accession to MLS became official in 2013. Their centerpiece, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, is the pulsing, metrononomic beat of what promises to be a potent Lions spine and offense.
You know him as Kakà. It's astonishing that I write this, but his presence in Orlando - and MLS - was overshadowed in an offseason punctuated by a looming labor struggle and a botched superstar signing. That changes tonight, at least if Ricky Kakà has anything to say about it.
The rest of Orlando's squad is quietly impressive, too. They've done a splendid job of building a young, accomplished squad buttressed with iron experience. Former MLS Cup MVP Aurélien Collin anchors the back line, Amobi Okugo toils away as your holding midfielder, and young Honduran standout Bryan Róchez is the lone gunslinger up front.
These are tonight's starting XI.
First, Orlando City:
Now, your New York City starting XI:
Yes, I think that instead of a diamond 4-4-2, Kreis will probably deploy a modified 4-3-2-1. It's one of the ways you can slot in Javier Calle, who plays on the left and isn't particularly mobile, whilst not sacrificing acres and acres of space on the left, because you've got Ned Grabavoy shuttling back-and-forth.
Jacobson patrols the center, Diskerud deploys further up on the right, with Josh Williams giving defensive cover on the right. Manchester City youth player Shay Facey starts next to Mendoza -- he's been really impressive throughout preseason. Velasquez is the other attacking midfielder on the right.
HOW TO WATCH
Right here, in glorious Youtube livestream glory, at 7:30 PM ET sharp. Literally: you can watch the game below. If you're in New York City, you can join supporters' group The Third Rail at Nevada Smith's, at 12th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan.
We'll be tracking the match, and have a recap after the match finishes.
MATCH THREAD RULES
Welcome to the first Orlando-New York City match thread! We're glad you're here! Wipe your feet, mind the gap, and be sure to check out the other pages at this outstanding site. While you're here, though, we have a few rules and regulations.
- Absolutely no links to illegal streams. They're bad and they get us in trouble. This shouldn't be an issue today, but let's be cognizant of that going forward.
- We have rules against "relentless negativity." Nobody likes a Negative Nancy, even when we're losing to a scrub team. Don't knee-jerk and post outlandish or hurtful things just because you're frustrated.
- Along those lines, outright abuse of players or match officials is verboten. It's fine to say "wow, that's a bad call, match official," but it's NOT okay to direct copious amounts of abuse in the direction of said official over a call you did not like.
- Treat other people in the match thread the way you would want someone else to treat your grandmother. Be nice. Observe Wheaton's Law. This is a community of fans, not an un-moderated message board.
Finally, while we don't have a rule against profanity, any language that is sexist, racist, or homophobic in nature will be swiftly deleted and you may lose posting privileges. This is an open, supportive community.
Have fun. I believe that New York City will win.