Orlando City has yet to lose to the Chicago Fire in MLS play, but this is not the Fire of old. They are no longer the basement-dwellers of the Eastern Conference, sitting above the Lions at second in the conference with the help of some much-needed off-season additions.
The Fire are rolling with four wins on the bounce and five games unbeaten, including last week’s wild 2-1 victory over the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners FC Dallas in Bridgeview. With an injection of quality in the midfield and at striker, the Lions are going to need production at every position to keep the good vibes going in Orlando City Stadium. Here are the three main keys to City getting three points:
Consistency from Barnes
Giles Barnes was very different Wednesday night compared to what we’ve grown accustomed to over the past two months. His energy and effort were at an all-time high on both ends of the field in the midweek victory over D.C. United. It was reminiscent of his first appearance in purple, where he sparked the Lions’ first goal in Orlando City Stadium and was a menace on defense.
Barnes is one of the most talented players on the squad when he’s giving full effort. His skill on the ball is second only to Kaká and that, combined with his athleticism, makes him one of the most dangerous players Orlando has on its roster. But as Kreis mentioned after the D.C. game, Barnes hasn’t brought it for every match this year.
“I thought [Barnes’ performance against D.C.] was obviously a different level than some of the games,” Kreis said in his post-match press conference. “The first game he played for us I think was that exact same level — and he’s had some along the way — but for me that’s your prototypical ‘why you make a substitution.’”
And that energy and effort was a burst of fresh legs that the team lacked and gave the offense the extra spark it needed. So whether the gaffer decides to start the Jamaican international or bring him off the bench again, he’s almost guaranteed to see action on Sunday. What he does with those minutes will make all the difference.
Slowing David Accam
The majority of the focus for Chicago’s offense will rightfully be on striker Nemanja Nikolic and new Designated Player Bastian Schweinsteiger, but Orlando faithful are very familiar with the speedy Ghanaian winger.
Accam has generally blitzed the Lions over the last two years with three goals and two assists in five games. City has struggled with pace on the outside this season, allowing Gerso Fernandes, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis to get loose and punish the defense. It doesn’t help that this is once again Orlando’s third game in eight days. Scott Sutter played all 180 minutes against Minnesota United and D.C., but with Rafael Ramos available again after recovering from injuring both hamstrings, Kreis finally has depth on the right.
Ramos has a pair of appearances with Orlando City B already, but that pales in comparison to dealing with Accam, who is a handful for any defender. To make things even more interesting, Accam is on pace for a career year in Chicago, with seven goals and four assists to his name already. Kreis has a difficult decision on his hands; does he throw Rafa into the fire for his first MLS start of 2017 or does he try and ride the steady defending of Scott Sutter and hope he still has enough left in the tank?
Orlando has struggled with counterattacks this year and they’ll need to reverse that trend to come away with a result.
Keep the Momentum Going
Wednesday wasn’t just a win to stop the slide that was the month of May. It was a dominating performance. With 57% of possession and 10 more chances on goal, it was the most dominant performance of the season.
“We need to [build on the win]. We need to,” Kreis said after the match. “It’s not enough just to win one game and go away. We have to build on that. We have to build on all the positives we had there, correct some of the negatives. If we do that, we’ll have a good chance.”
And the negatives almost cost them points. A hospital pass from Jose Aja almost gifted United an equalizer if not for heroics by Jonathan Spector and Joe Bendik. But that heart and hustle are the things that the squad has been missing since its early season winning streak. If the team can capture that lightning in a bottle again and get the team believing once more, it will go a long way to putting the disastrous winless run in the rear view mirror.
It starts with the quick turnaround against Chicago. If the Lions can put on the same type of performance against one of this year’s top teams, it could spark another run.