Following a successful first outing of 2023, Orlando City will try to keep the good times rolling on Saturday. The Lions will once again be at home, and they will be facing fellow Lions, FC Cincinnati.
Marco Angulo was FC Cincinnati’s big off-season signing. How does he fit into FCC’s lineup?
Bryan Weigel: Fitting new U22 Initiative player Marco Angulo into the FCC lineup in 2023 will be a crucial task for Head Coach Pat Noonan. The 20-year-old midfielder arrives from Independiente del Valle on a $3 million transfer and will play in a box-to-box role for the Orange & Blue.
Supplanting existing midfielder Junior Moreno will take time if not all season. Moreno has been a stalwart next to Designated Player Obinna Nwobodo in a 3-5-2, but he cannot cover as much ground as the younger Ecuadorian. I think it is a luxury that FCC can slowly work in Angulo due to the veteran Moreno and former DP Yuya Kubo ahead of him on the depth chart. We have seen his tape and some time at training with most feedback being extremely positive.
Look for Angulo to come off the bench early on in 2023, but by the time both teams play in September, I think it is more likely that he will be a starter. Noonan seems to prefer a 4-4-2 diamond formation and I think Angulo will fit well once FCC moves to that later in 2023 or in 2024.
What area of the field is strongest for Cincy, and what area gives you the most concern?
BW: I would be silly if my answer for the strongest area of the field for FCC wasn’t the attacking trio of Brandon Vazquez, Brenner, and Lucho Acosta. Fortunately for Orlando, Brenner was back in Brazil for three weeks tending to a family illness and just returned to Cincy early last week. He came off the bench for goal scorer Sergio Santos, and I think it is 50/50 that he starts.
The other 18-goal scorer, Vazquez, looked dangerous at times this weekend, but was unable to find the back of the net on two really good chances. Acosta, an MVP candidate and MLS assists leader in 2022, is always dangerous and can create opportunities seemingly out of nothing. Santos will be the alternate to Brenner and is one of the fastest attackers in the league. Even the fourth striker, Dom Badji, is very talented and provides another option off the bench.
The area that gives me the most concern is the defense. While upgraded with Wolverhampton loanee center back Yerson Mosquera and former PSV/Atletico Madrid left back Santiago Arias, this group has not had much time together. Add in returners Nick Hagglund, Matt Miazga, and — in my opinion — a top-three left wing back, Alvaro Barreal, this group has talent, but needs time together.
Cincinnati had a great 2022, roaring out of the bottom of the East with a vengeance. What are the expectations for the team this year?
BW: 2022 was a pleasant surprise in FCC-land. New general manager Chris Albright pulled many of the right levers in adding players like Miazga, Nwobodo, Moreno, and draft pick Roman Celentano. Pat Noonan and his staff showed the ability to maximize the potential of the high-profile signings and look to do so again.
Windows for success in MLS are small, and the window with this group could be slamming shut soon as constructed. Young Designated Player Brenner is looking to move abroad and will likely depart this Summer. FCC has already turned down a $7.5 million bid for Brandon Vazquez and he could also be out soon.
How will FCC address these potential losses and still fight for silverware? The project looks to be headed in the right direction and the management of many distractions will be key.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, etc. that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
BW: There are only two injuries of significance so far this spring. Backup keeper Alec Kann has been out for the past several weeks, but returned to full training early this week. Sergio Santos picked up a knock around the 60th minute on Saturday, but he also returned to training.
Here is my projected Starting XI: (3-5-2)
Roman Celentano; Yerson Mosquera, Matt Miazga, Nick Hagglund; Alvaro Barreal Santiago Arias, Junior Moreno, Obi Nwobodo, Lucho Acosta ©; Brenner, Brandon Vazquez.
This match has always scared me as I think Orlando and its fans are very difficult to play against. Orlando was my pick for second in the Eastern Conference, and I like many of their moves. FCC looked a bit shaky in transition and if they don’t clean it up, I think Orlando can put several goals past Celentano.
In my view, both teams boast top-level talent in the East, but need the pieces to gel together. With that, I think FCC will be a bit more defensive minded and will try to hit Orlando on the counter or take advantage of pressing cues.
My pick is a 2-2 draw in Orlando this weekend. Goals by Brenner and Vazquez.
As always, a huge thank you to Bryan for the information on FCC. Vamos Orlando!