Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SB Nation Soccer world to get some insight on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.
Jason Kreis’s Lions have had a poor run of form since beating NYCFC in the Bronx, taking only two points in four games. Both Orlando and New York City will be keen on grabbing all three points Sunday to stay in contention in a competitive Eastern Conference.
Michael Citro, Mane Land Founder and Managing Editor, visited with us for the third time this year to discuss all things Orlando. Michael addresses Orlando’s recent form, squad rotation, and what to expect this Sunday.
Q. Orlando remained in cruise control following its 2-1 win over NYC FC, beating Colorado 2-0 the following week. Since that game, OCSC has not managed a win (0-2-2) and, as a result, has fallen off the top line of the Eastern Conference Standings. If you had to point to one thing that's caused this short, sub-par run of form, what would that thing be?
M. I would say the results have been more sub-par than the team’s form, aside from the trip to Houston, when Orlando City was just completely run out of the building. Every team has a howler of a game like that once or twice a year (and the Lions used to have them more often than that). Orlando looked the better side against both Toronto and San Jose on the road but got only one point to show for those performances. The Lions looked to stay more compact against Sporting Kansas City at home but took their opportunities to score two on a pretty stubborn defense, but just couldn’t prevent the equalizer.
As for pointing to one thing…you really can’t. At Houston it was everything. Bad possession, bad passing, bad defense, bad attacking play. Against Toronto and San Jose it was finishing. Cyle Larin uncharacteristically missed two sitters at BMO Field and Kaká had the winning goal on his foot in the 91st minute at San Jose but none went in. Those are the guys you want taking those shots but that’s soccer sometimes. You can also point to a bit of bad luck. I’ve mentioned Larin’s flubs at Toronto. Against SKC Jose Aja had a goal waved off because the ball went a few inches over the end line in the air on a corner kick. At San Jose a big old handball in the box went uncalled and PC hit the crossbar. At some point, if the performances continue to be good, the luck will turn around and the results will return. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later.
Q. Talk to me about the players and the squad since we last played - How has Kreis rotated the team, what have you liked out of certain players since our last meeting and what has been disappointing to you?
M. There’s been quite a bit of rotation lately. Early this month the team played three games in eight days and Sunday will mark the third match in nine days. One of the things Kreis has chosen to do is to start Luis Gil and Giles Barnes at midfield and striker, respectively, and rested Kaká and Carlos Rivas to bring them on as super subs. He’s done that a couple of times, although I wouldn’t expect that on Sunday. We’ve seen some rotation in the defense – mostly from necessity. Tommy Redding left for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, bringing Jose Aja back into the lineup. Jonathan Spector missed the Houston match with an ankle issue and the San Jose game with an illness. Leo Pereira and Victor “PC” Giro made their MLS debuts on Wednesday night at center back and left back, respectively, for the sick Spector and to rest Donny Toia.
I’ve really liked how the young defenders stepped in and performed well. Aja is having a solid season, although he was a bit culpable on Sporting’s tying goal. I had seen both Pereira and PC play with the reserve side this year and both showed potential but nothing terribly special, yet they both stepped right in and played great games at San Jose. What’s been disappointing is that Barnes hasn’t looked dangerous and has had trouble getting on the ball when playing up top and Gil hasn’t yet shown the offensive flashes he had at Real Salt Lake, though I suspect he’s still playing his way into match sharpness after not appearing often for Queretaro.
Q. Orlando has NYC FC's number so far in their rivalry in a very frustrating way. It's not that Orlando tends to blow NYC FC off the pitch, but they have a special knack for grabbing victories in close games. Why do you think Orlando is so successful against New York and how does the team keep the good times rolling this weekend?
M. I’m not really sure how Orlando City has bewitched NYCFC over the teams’ first few seasons in MLS. On paper, New York City has appeared to hold a talent advantage for much of the last three years. It might just be as simple as Orlando viewing New York City as a rival team when the inverse isn’t true. Most people I’ve spoken to from the NYC side don’t seem to regard Orlando City as a rival of their club. If one side sees it as a rivalry and the other doesn’t, that might account for the slight difference between the two teams when they play.
M. Kevin Alston is out but he hasn’t played a game for the senior club all year. Carlos Rivas had a leg injury but he came off the bench to score a goal on Wednesday so he’s probably good to go. No one is suspended at the moment but Cristian Higuita is one yellow away from a day off.
4-4-2 Diamond: Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Scott Sutter; Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Kaká; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.
M. It’s very difficult to beat a team three times in a season. I’ll go with a 2-2 draw.