Orlando City vs. Real Salt Lake: Match Preview, Starting XIs, Predictions and More



It’s been nearly a year since Kaká’s added time free kick bounced off Jeb Brovsky and into Orlando City history, as 62,510 fans at the Citrus Bowl celebrated the club’s MLS debut.

And now, it’s time to do it all over again.

Orlando City SC begins the 2016 season with a two-game home stand, starting with a matchup against Real Salt Lake on Sunday afternoon.

The club has opened the upper levels of the Citrus Bowl for Sunday’s match, encouraging Orlando City fans to #FillTheBowlAgain in what will be the Lions’ final home opener at the 80-year-old venue. With 48,000 tickets sold as of Monday morning, an electric atmosphere should be expected as Orlando gets its second season in MLS underway.

RSL will be looking to spoil the party, coming off a disappointing 2015 season in which it landed just outside the cellar of a fiercely competitive Western Conference. That finish is actually a bit misleading, as Salt Lake’s 41 points were only three behind an Orlando City team that was chasing a playoff berth until the final weekend of the regular season.

Needless to say, this is not an opponent for Orlando to take lightly.

In their only meeting of 2015, the Lions left Rio Tinto Stadium with a hard-fought 1-1 draw. That game is also memorable for the first straight red card Kaká has received in his professional career.

Predicted Starting XI and Lineups:

Orlando City:

The Lions will be without David Mateos and Carlos Rivas against RSL after both players sustained injuries in training this week. While Rivas was likely to come off the bench on Sunday, the absence of Mateos leaves Adrian Heath with a decision to make at center back.

Aurélien Collin has been practicing with the reserves throughout preseason training, meaning he’s hardly a sure thing to slide in for the injured Mateos. Instead, there’s a good chance that 19-year-old Tommy Redding gets the start next to Seb Hines on Orlando’s back line.

It’s a move that seems unthinkable until you compare Redding’s playing style with that of the injured Mateos. Both are strong on-ball defenders with the ability to jump start Orlando’s attack from the back line. When Hines isn’t busy scoring four goals, he and Collin are much more physical players who earn their paycheck flirting with yellow cards and bullying opposing players just outside the box.

In other news, expect Pedro Ribeiro to step in for the suspended Cristian Higuita, while Servando Carrasco keeps the central defensive midfielder spot warm for Antonio Nocerino (who arrives in Orlando today). While there’s a chance Heath reverts back to a 4-2-3-1 with Mateos out, I think he’ll stick with the 4-3-2-1 that debuted against Bahia, as the Lions look to take advantage of Nocerino’s ability in the defensive midfield moving forward.

Real Salt Lake:

RSL is coming off a midweek loss to Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions League, which gives us a decent idea of who they’ll roll out on Sunday against Orlando.

Operating out of a 4-3-3, Salt Lake’s offensive attack features three players capable of making things happen on offense, as Juan Manuel Martínez, Yura Movsisyan and Joao Plata will lead the line against Orlando City. With Kyle Beckerman providing service out of the midfield, the Lions will have their hands full on defense.

Aaron Maund is somehow cleared to play this weekend, despite suffering a horrific goose egg against Tigres on Wednesday. The only major change to look for could be at left back, where Demar Phillips and Chris Wingert could both find their way into the starting XI. Since Wingert got the nod in Champions League action on Wednesday, look for Jeff Cassar to go for some fresh legs in the form of Phillips against Orlando City.

Players to Watch:

Orlando City fans have to remember that until last season, Real Salt Lake had the longest playoff streak of any team in MLS. In 2016, they’ve got plenty of guys who were a part of that success, plus some new faces to make sure last season’s disappointing finish doesn’t happen again.

Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando lead the old guard, as both players have combined for almost 500 appearances with RSL. They give Salt Lake a chance in every match they play, and Beckerman especially should cause Orlando trouble on Sunday. With Higuita unavailable and Nocerino having just arrived in Orlando, it will be up to Carrasco and Ribeiro to keep Beckerman contained on Sunday, which is a dicey proposition and a match-up to watch on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Joao Plata has begun to come into his own for Salt Lake and gives the club a dynamic attacking option to keep opponent busy. RSL has paired him with two designated players in the form Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martínez (who joined the club from Boca Juniors in August) and Yura Movsisyan (currently on loan from Spartak Moscow).

Movsisyan is an interesting story, because he’s a guy who sparked a career in Europe based off his performance in MLS. After tearing it up for Real Salt Lake from 2007-2009, he moved across the Atlantic, eventually joining a Spartak team that appeared in the Champions League and regularly finishes near the top of the table in the Russian Premier League.

After returning to MLS in 2016, look for Movsisyan to flash his attacking prowess against Orlando on Sunday afternoon.


Orlando City 2, Real Salt Lake 2

It’s hard not to pick Orlando City in this one, as I’d love nothing more than to see the Lions send a sell-out crowd home happy on Sunday.

And before the injuries to Mateos and Rivas, I probably would have done just that. But there are really a number of reasons I think Orlando splits the point with RSL this weekend,

A patchwork midfield is going to have its hands full with Beckerman, and with Higuita suspended, I just don’t see how the Lions are going to stop the USMNT veteran from creating chances for Salt Lake. A full preseason for Burrito Martínez and the addition of Movsisyan give RSL an attack that should start clicking sooner rather than later in 2016.

I think people tend to look past Real Salt Lake because of their struggles in a deep Western Conference last season, but this team was actually pretty similar to Orlando City a year ago. They’re just better than the Lions on paper, and they begin the season with their shiny new off-season signing ready to go.

Sunday is going to be an entertaining affair and Orlando should have chances to win, but at end of the day, look for these teams to draw in the season opener.


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