It’s been a pretty rough month for sports fans in the city of Toronto. Last week, the Maple Leafs fell to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blue Jays got off to a horrid start in April. The Raptors, however, are still in the playoffs, but currently trail the Cleveland Cavilers after one game in the second round.
On the bright side, they still also have plenty of hope in Toronto FC, which sits fifth in the Eastern Conference standings and will welcome Orlando City to BMO Field tonight for a big showdown between two serious playoff contenders.
Orlando (6-1-0, 18 points) is off to a hot start — the fifth-hottest start in terms of total points through seven games in MLS history, actually — and has been enjoying plenty of success in its new home, with five wins in its first five matches at Orlando City Stadium. But on the road, the Lions have yet to get a ton of action under their belts, with just two games played away from home up to this point — a loss at Columbus and a win at Yankee Stadium.
As they come off a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, the Lions head into Toronto and BMO Field, which has not been an easy place for them in their short MLS history. In 2015, the Lions played twice at BMO Field, losing both of those games, 4-1 and 5-0. They only made one trip to Toronto last season, playing to a scoreless draw in late-September under Head Coach Jason Kreis.
Toronto FC (3-1-4, 13 points) hasn’t seen the wins come as often as it would like, but it has still seen success lately with just one loss this season and wins in each of its last two games, including a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo this past weekend.
All-time against Orlando, Toronto has had its way in the series, with a 4-1-1 record.
Predicted Starting Lineups
It’s safe to say — or is it? — that the Lions have changed the talk around the team so far through the first two months. Coming off another playoff-less campaign, and a handful of changes to the roster, people — including myself — weren’t really sure what to expect from the club. Many people had them sneaking into the playoffs, while some experts had them missing out entirely for a third straight season.
But that hasn’t been the case through seven games, as Kreis’ off-season additions and philosophies have planted themselves within the group much quicker than anticipated, and even as the Lions currently sit atop the Supporters’ Shield standings, Kreis said after the win over Colorado that he sees plenty of room still left to grow.
It’s scary to think that.
Anyway, you have Orlando City getting more healthy by the week, with Kaká having finally rejoined the team against Colorado and scoring in the victory. His return creates an interesting “problem” in the midfield for Kreis, who has a number of options moving forward now with not just players coming back, but players throughout the roster playing in really good form right now.
But with the schedule about to get very thick this month with a pair of double game weeks, that depth and rotation is going to be very important moving forward.
Last season’s MLS Cup runners-up have had Orlando’s number over the last two seasons, and are hoping this critical early season match-up continues along with the trend.
Toronto is seeing success from its big players, with Jozy Altidore leading the team with five goals this season, including a brace against Houston, and Sebastian Giovinco, the 2015 MLS MVP and should-have-been MVP finalist last season, with three goals to his credit so far.
The Reds have been playing in a 3-5-2 system lately, and it would be a safe bet to say they’ll use it again against Orlando, which might be able to take advantage of the wing backs coming forward by letting Carlos Rivas loose down the left side.
In the system, Toronto is good at holding possession and stacking up passes throughout the midfield as the Reds look to build up the field and hope to find Giovinco or Altidore in space. They’re also one of the league’s most dangerous teams when it comes to set pieces, so Orlando City will need to be very cautious when giving up corners or free kicks from close range, because, as we’ve come to learn in the past, Giovinco can and will score on those.
Player to Watch For
Sebastian Giovinco is the second-highest-paid player in MLS behind only Kaká, yet he is arguably the best player in MLS over the last two seasons since joining the league. He can do so many things with the ball, he can dribble through multiple defenders, and he can make pinpoint passes before his teammates can even expect them, and he can also score a goal or two or three here and there. Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, and Cristian Higuita are going to be pressing this guy air tight all night long.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, Toronto FC 2
Listen, this is going to be a tough two-game road trip for Orlando. Four points from these two games would be great in short turnarounds and playing in unfavorable heat in Orlando and Houston. If the Lions can somehow escape with a win, then this team is unbeatable. However, realistically, a point at BMO Field is a good result.