Life’s got a strange way of wending and winding you to its chosen destination. Jason Kreis — more than most MLS managers — is familiar with the trials of building an expansion team into a contender. Which explains why New York City FC made him their first manager.
What he didn’t reckon with was that he’d be using his expertise with Orlando City. Fired after one tempestuous season in Gotham, Kreis stepped in to replace Orlando’s first manager, Adrian Heath. So far, it looks to be a better fit for him — he managed to steady a flailing Lions team; this season, the Lions combine a ferociously stingy defense with a quietly efficient offense, led by Canadian striker Cyle Larin.
New York City, meanwhile, replaced Kreis with Patrick Vieira. While Vieira got off to the same kind of dreadful start that plagued Kreis -- a seven-game winless streak -- he nevertheless commanded a more unified locker room. The respect that players had for Vieira as a playing legend meant the Blues transcended that start to eventually finish second in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs. It was the kind of success that CFG didn’t see happening with Kreis.
New York City and Orlando clashed to open the season at Orlando’s new stadium. That game ended in a 1-0 victory for the Lions, who’ve yet to lose at home. The Blues have fashioned a similar fortress-like atmosphere at Yankee Stadium; they’re unbeaten in 11 regular-season home matches (9-0-2) going back to last season. Orlando’s absolutely dreadful on the road; over the last 17 games, the Lions are 2-8-7.
But in seven regular-season games, Orlando have only lost once to New York City; their record is 4-1-2.
So one question is: will Orlando fall victim to its road record? Or will it continue its winning ways against NYCFC? The game, which will be nationally televised on FS1, will likely be a taut affair.
Going into tomorrow’s game, New York City will be missing some folks. Ronald Matarrita was injured in practice this week, suffering a high ankle sprain. They’re also missing forward Khiry Shelton, who suffered a bum hamstring earlier this season. So what will their lineup look like without Matarrita? Something like this, I suspect:
I suspect Vieira will line the Blues with three defenders at the back. Something like a 3-3-3-1, or a 3-2-1-3-1. Callens takes Matarrita’s place on the left, while we might see midfielder Mikey Lopez’s first appearance this season.
Meanwhile, Orlando fields Larin — probably the league’s best striker, and I include Villa in that tally — but the key’s really been their defense. In their first meeting, they frustrated New York City offensively, and Scott Sutter, Tommy Redding, Jonathan Spector, and Donny Toia will look to do that again.