Today's date has been circled on the calendar from the beginning.
How could it not? Following a season-opening 1-1 draw at the Citrus Bowl down in Central Florida -- a match that screamed "to be continued" at full force -- this was, besides the two Red Bull clashes, the big summertime ticket for New York City. Back in March, who could have denied the singular primacy of a heavyweight clash pitting David Villa and Frank Lampard against the wizardry of Kaka?
Well, Lampard still hasn't played a single minute for New York City, but don't let anyone tell you that the stakes aren't higher today than they were on March 8th.
Orlando City find themselves in sixth position in the Eastern Conference, tucked precariously into the grouping's final playoff spot.
Three points behind them? Your Bronx Blues, who can go ahead of the Floridians on goal difference with a win by two goals or more. A tall task? Sure. But imagine the pep talk that Andrea Pirlo's beard is going to give before today's 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
Eat your heart out, Coach Taylor. This is NYCFC 2.0.
Pirlo himself may not play; he only began training with the team on July 21st, and gaffer Jason Kreis acknowledged that his transition will take time. But considering the eternal absence of Frank "SuperTourist" Lampard, the fans will be absolutely clamoring for an extra dose of star power, especially if the home team is the first to concede. Pirlo, he who controls the ball with the care of a bomb defuser and serves up picturesque long-balls that temporarily block out the sun, doesn't require very many minutes to make a grand impact.
On the purple side, the scouting report reads rather similarly every week: stop Kaka and you might have a chance. Along with nine goals in his own right, the Brazilian playmaker has made a man out of rookie striker Cyle Larin, who sports six goals owing largely to the pure distributive class of the former.
Aside from those two, no other Orlando City player has found the net more than twice. New York City's famously inconsistent back four, however, will have to show some steel to cut out the equal threats of individual brilliance or a quickly-sprung counter-attack. Center back Jason Hernandez is out today on a yellow card suspension, so new signing Jefferson Mena may have his first chance to feature. The athletic Colombian brings a level of dynamism to the position that Hernandez, Chris Wingert, and the stupefying Kwame Watson-Siriboe simply cannot provide.
On form, the home team will have every chance to capitalize. Orlando City enters today's match having lost their last two matches without scoring a single goal.
Oh, that sound you hear? Kinda like a truck down-shifting on the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, yeah? That's the sound of Josh Saunders salivating.
Today's menu calls for seared lion. Can the boys in blue bring the sizzle?
INJURED & ABSENT
New York City:
OUT: Connor Brandt (adductor)
QUESTIONABLE: Frank Lampard (soleus), Ryan Meara (back), Khiry Shelton (quad)
SUSPENDED: Ned Grabavoy (red card), Jason Hernandez (yellow card accumulation)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Mix Diskerud (USA! USA! USA!)
OUT: Kevin Molino, Martin Paterson, Sean St. Ledger
DAY-TO-DAY: Tony Cascio, Harrison Heath, Brek Shea
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
New York City:
RUNNIN' THE NUMBERS
- 6/6/15: Date of the last road win by Orlando City, a 3-2 affair in Chicago.
- 1: Red cards issued last week to each team. NYC's Ned Grabavoy is suspended today, while OCSC successfully appealed the red card issued to striker Kyle Larin during the week.
- 367: Days since Frank Lampard was announced as a New York City player, although he was not actually signed by the team at that time. He has never played a game in the NYCFC shirt.
- 5: Games started this year by NYC fullback Josh Williams, who was waived during the week to free up a roster spot. He had been battling thigh injuries for most of the year.
- 0: Wins by either team this season when trailing at the half.
- 62,510: Announced attendance for the March 8th opener between these two teams at Orlando's Citrus Bowl. Orlando City ranks second in MLS in average attendance, while NYC comes in at third.