With 10 games left in the regular season, I’m not embarrassed to say that I still haven’t completely figured out Orlando City (5-6-13, 28 points). The Lions have a losing record, but are level on points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They just slogged their way to a 0-0 draw with the Colorado Rapids, but a point on the road against a Supporters’ Shield contender has me feeling pretty good.
And then I saw this video on Antonio Nocerino’s Instagram:
A video posted by Antonio Nocerino 23 (@antonocerino) on
So yeah, the Lions are winning the freaking league. Toronto FC (11-7-7, 40 points) could roll out vintage Jozy Altidore on Wednesday night and it wouldn’t matter. Oh, they’ve got a reigning MVP in Sebastian Giovinco? Not a problem. Go ahead and bring Jermain Defoe back from Sunderland while you’re at it.
Because Kaká’s driving, Noce’s handling the aux cord and Júlio Baptista’s riding shotgun all the way to MLS Cup.
City handled Toronto FC in their first meeting of the season, a 3-2 victory that would be Adrian Heath’s final win as manager. Here’s the bad news: that Toronto side was missing the USMNT duo of Altidore and Michael Bradley, so this is going to be a very different club. Can Orlando City grab all three points at home to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race?
Starting XI and Lineup Predictions:
Jason Kreis has run out a couple different starting lineups since arriving in Orlando, but in a perfect world, I still think this is what the new boss would go with. There’s no reason that front four can’t be one of the most dangerous in MLS, even though injuries and some recent results haven’t provided much reason for optimism.
Kevin Molino is still coming back from a hamstring injury and was held out against the Rapids after featuring as a substitute the previous weekend in Chicago. The Lions managed to add some depth in the form of recently acquired Matías Pérez García, so it’s not like the midfield completely falls apart without the Trinidadian, but he’s in the middle of an explosive offensive campaign and should start if he’s healthy.
Things get a little more complicated at the back, where Orlando’s defense has been suspect at times in 2016. Seb Hines should still be ahead of José Aja on the depth chart, even though the Uruguayan was impressive in his first start against Colorado. But I don’t think he jumps Hines on the strength of one performance.
With five wins in their last six matches (or as many victories as Orlando has the whole season), the Reds are charging up the Eastern Conference standings and are looking to wrestle the East’s top spot from NYCFC. With their Big Three of Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore firing on all cylinders, this is a club that nobody in the league wants to play right now.
They’ve been dealing with an injury at goalkeeper, after Clint Irwin suffered a quad injury during Toronto’s last trip to Camping World Stadium back in June, but 2015 SuperDraft selection Alex Bono has stepped in and filled the role nicely. Our friends at Waking the Red seem confident about the second-year Syracuse man:
More than statistics, however, many of which can be attributed to team performance, it is Bono’s growth that has impressed. He has learned the moments that he needs to be aggressive, how to organise his backline, and his distribution has improved to the point where he has helped create a few Toronto FC goals.
Heck, if Bono was allowed to finish the season, he would be in the conversation for MLS rookie of the year. He certainly has the numbers to make a case, and with Toronto FC heating up those numbers don’t look like they would drop anytime soon.
Benoît Cheyrou has also been out with a lingering hamstring injury, but he’s listed as questionable this week. The turf monster at Camping World Stadium would certainly seem like a factor in whether or not the Frenchman returns against the Lions.
Player(s) to Watch:
Honestly, just take your pick.
Everyone knows about Toronto’s Designated Players, but there’s still plenty to worry about when you get past the big guns. More specifically, the club’s defense, which hasn’t allowed more than a single goal in a league match since July 16.
Drew Moor might be an MLS lifer, but he’s not somebody most people talk about behind all of Toronto’s star power. But the 32-year-old center back was a nice pickup for the club when he joined TFC in December, after an All-Star season captaining the Colorado Rapids
With a couple USMNT call-ups and a penchant for staying healthy, Moor has led a unit that’s been tough to score on this season. Beyond just stopping Giovinco and friends, Orlando will have to break down the Reds on defense in order to have a chance this week.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Toronto FC 1
Orlando’s been solid at home this season, and if you’ve got to play one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, then why not do it front of 35,000 of your closest friends? I think the Lions grab a point against a red-hot Toronto side. With both D.C. United and New England on the road tomorrow, that could be enough to help City to keep pace in the Eastern Conference for just a few more days.