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How You Doin'? Orlando City

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The Mane Land swings by for a chat about all things Orlando City prior to Sunday's match

Beware the ferocity of lions
Beware the ferocity of lions
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kick-starting Waking the Red's build into the sixth game of the season, I exchanged some questions with Michael Citro of SB Nation's Orlando site, The Mane Land, ahead of Sunday's match. Due to travel considerations this week – just got back from Ottawa - we've forgone the usual question style, adopting instead a parroted copy of the questions Michael sent our way. With two more games later in the season we'll have another chance to dig into some of the wider, burning issues as the Florida club continue their expansion season.

Who are three Orlando City players Toronto FC fans should watch?

The first is obviously our midfield maestro, Kaká. The Brazilian has been everything we’d hoped for already this young season and will only get better as he gets a better understanding of the league and its players. Kaká makes everything go. He provides the build-up play, through balls and even three goals so far. He’ll take nearly every set piece. He calms things down by being an outlet for the defense. The captain has been remarkable and is usually good for a nutmeg or two per game.

Amobi Okugo is a guy who has been around but he’s our rock in the defensive midfield. Okguo does all the unsung, dirty work. He provides coverage for Orlando City’s forward-thinking fullbacks, latches on to opposing teams’ best attacking midfielders and wins possession in his own third.

Lastly, Aurelien Collin has been a team MVP candidate, despite starting the season with a late game red card against New York City FC. That move didn’t endear him to fans off the bat, but he’s been solid in central defense and has probably singlehandedly prevented six or seven goals by himself. He wins nearly everything in the air, as well and he nearly scored a goal at Columbus last week.

Those three have been the most impressive this season, although international soccer fans will recognize left back Brek Shea, mostly from his Gold Cup exploits with the USMNT. He’s been very good, but is still learning a new position after spending much of his career as a left wing.

What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?

Adrian Heath prefers an attacking and controlling 4-2-3-1 formation that presses high and keeps the other team back on its heels. This has been a challenge this season due to injuries and international duty. The last two games – both on the road – Orlando City has gone with a 4-3-3 to try to control both Portland’s Darlington Nagbe and Columbus’s Federico Higuain.

This approach mostly worked at Portland but had somewhat mixed results in the first 34 minutes at Columbus due to Rafael Ramos’s red card. Heath would no doubt prefer to have a healthy Martin Paterson to provide more quality at striker and move Carlos Rivas back to left attacking mid. Heath said earlier this week that there won’t be a lot of changes, so we might see the 4-3-3 again with the club trying to slow down Sebastian Giovinco.

You’ll see that Kaká sort of drifts all over the field, following his instincts and finding space, and Kevin Molino is starting to find the freedom to roam a bit more as well. It makes the front three more fluid and less rigid in formation and can confuse defenses.

What have you learned about this year's Orlando City team through the first few MLS games this season?

We’ve learned that it’s harder to score goals in MLS than in the USL. Orlando City has scored more than one goal only twice this season and has been shut out three times in its first seven MLS games. That’s not to say there haven’t been scoring chances. Orlando dominated DC United at home a few weeks ago and peppered Bill Hamid’s goal but couldn’t break through, losing on a stoppage time set piece.

We’ve also learned that Kaká is really good and that our back line is much better than we expected. This seems odd for a team that gave up three goals a week ago, but that was mostly chalked up to a 10-man squad and some argument could be made that offside should have negated at least one of those.

What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team at this point?

The strengths through the first seven games have been the back line and the midfield. Orlando’s defenders have limited opposing shots on goal and have dug in rather well with the lead. Collin and Seb Hines have quietly formed one of the more underrated central defense pairings in the league, while Shea and Ramos (who will miss Sunday due to suspension) have been better than expected in coverage. Ramos is also very dynamic as part of the attack so his absence will be felt.

The midfield Lions have done a great job of keeping possession and frustrating teams. Kaká and Kevin Molino have developed a nice chemistry and that was beginning to extend to Pedro Ribeiro before he unfortunately tore his hamstring. Okugo, Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita have been poachers in the defensive midfield, turning teams over and getting the ball back to their captain to start the attack.

The weakness, as stated above, has been finding the back of the net. Ribeiro was coming on as the team’s go-to forward before his injury, and presumed starter Martin Paterson has yet to play in a regular season match due to his own hamstring issues. Carlos Rivas and Bryan Rochez yielded less than ideal results up top, so rookie Cyle Larin has inherited that role by default. Larin scored a goal in his first start but was unable to leave a mark on the game last week, as he was sacrificed for a defender when Ramos was sent off.

What are the fans' expectations for the club, both realistic and unrealistic?

The realistic ones believe the team may struggle at times, but that there is enough talent here to challenge for a playoff spot in 2015. This line of thought has been illustrated already, with the club turning in dominating performances against Vancouver and D.C. only to let them slip away as 1-0 home losses. The unrealistic ones are thinking the team can make a run at the Supporters Shield or possibly get hot in the playoffs and make a run to the MLS Cup Final. But the club’s motto is "defy expectations," so we’ve been explicitly told that it’s OK to expect more than we should.

What do you expect the starting XI to look like on Saturday and what is your final score prediction?

With Heath saying not to expect many changes, I won’t, although Ramos is suspended, so the right back spot has to change. Paterson isn’t likely to return this week, as far as I know, so I think Heath will continue to keep Rivas on the bench as a second-half super sub for Larin, which worked to perfection at Portland. This limits his midfield options due to Lewis Neal’s injury, so I expect a return of the 4-3-3 as such:

Donovan Ricketts; Brek Shea, Seb Hines, Aurelien Collin, Tyler Turner; Darwin Ceren, Amobi Okugo, Cristian Higuita; Kaká, Cyle Larin, Kevin Molino.

I’d love to predict our first home win but I’ll say a 2-2 draw sounds right. The Lions are overdue to score some goals at home but Giovinco scares the hell out of me.


A huge thanks to Michael for stopping by to chat with WTR – he can be followed on twitter @ManeLandMichael. And be sure to swing by The Mane Land for all the latest Orlando City news and the pregame chatter in expectation of Sunday's clash. And be sure to check out the latest edition of the PawedCast, featuring Waking the Red's own, Mitchell Tierney.

My answers to his questions can be found at The Mane Land Intelligence Report - The More You Know, indeed.