This weekend Toronto FC will try and push their unbeaten streak to five when they head to Orlando and take on Orlando City SC for the first time this season. Toronto FC generally dominated the matches between the teams last year, with Sebastian Giovinco in particular enjoying himself.
However, a fair amount has changed about the team Toronto FC will meet on Saturday. Waking the Red talked to the Mane Land, which is SB Nation's Orlando City SC blog, about the team they cover. Here is what we learned:
1. Evidently, Canadians will be interested in Cyle Larin. How has he been this year compared to last year and how will he threaten Toronto FC in this match?
Kid Fantastic is having another standout season. Despite the fact that teams are ready for him this year, his scoring pace is consistent with his remarkable rookie season, but he's added to his arsenal of weapons in his sophomore campaign. This year, Larin's hold-up play and his vision has improved and he's been able to not only score goals for himself, but also to set up others. He's currently tied for second on the team in assists (3), in addition to leading the club in goals (7). There is still room for improvement in both his hold-up play and his vision but he's made great strides from his first to his second season and he has shown a willingness to put in the work to get better. Cyle has a bright future and we feel like it won't be too long before European clubs raise their interest to the point where Orlando City will have to sell him.
2. Orlando has more ties than any team in MLS this season, what is it about the squad that has led to the struggle to finish off matches, or is it just a coincidence?
There are multiple factors that have contributed to the number of draws that have piled up this year. The club never quits, so there have been several times when the Lions have rescued a point with a late goal (or two). Orlando scored twice in stoppage to draw Real Salt Lake in the opener and came back from two down at New York City FC at the end of May, scoring the equaliser in the 94th minute. On the other hand, the team has switched off at times with a late lead, as was the case against the Philadelphia Union on May 25. In that match, Orlando scored twice in three minutes to come back from 1-0 down to take a lead. But they threw that lead away four minutes later off a set piece, allowing Ken Tribbett to score.
And there have been weird things like the handball-that-wasn't-a-handball against Servando Carrasco deep in stoppage against New England. Almost any human being could see it wasn't a handball, but Baldomero Toledo proved to be an exception. That gave Lee Nguyen a spot kick and resulted in yet another tie.
So, it's been a number of things, but one common theme in all of those games is that there were squandered opportunities to score. Even though Orlando is among the most prolific scoring teams in MLS, there have been wasted chances that could have put teams away and avoided some of these draws.
3. What has been the major strength and weakness of this Orlando team so far, and how could they effect Toronto FC on Saturday?
The strength of the team has been scoring goals and the weakness has been allowing them. The Lions have had a fairly prolific offense this season, ranking among the league leaders in goals scored. Unfortunately, the team also is among the bottom clubs in goals allowed. That's probably another big factor in why we've seen so many draws in 2016. The other big weakness has been going on for a year and a half now, and that's the ability to keep key players on the field. Injuries and suspensions have continued to plague Orlando City. Kaká has only been in the lineup for half the team's games. At least one of the starting defensive midfielders has been missing in nearly every match. And Adrian Heath has rarely been able to string together multiple games with the same center back pairing (and to illustrate that, Seb Hines will miss Saturday's match due to yellow card accumulation).
As for how these could affect the match...scoring goals on Toronto hasn't been easy for teams this season. In the last game, the Lions were able to put two on the board against another team with a good defence in the San Jose Earthquakes. So the players will feel they can get on the score sheet even against the league's best defensive clubs. On the other hand, struggling to stop opponents from scoring isn't a good weakness to have against a team that's got Sebastian Giovinco. On the health front, it looks like Orlando is finally getting back to a full squad with Kaká and Darwin Ceren returning to training this week. If Heath deems them fully fit to play, they are two players who can obviously impact a game.
Injuries: The only sure injury is Pedro Ribeiro, who had back surgery and is out indefinitely. Kaká (thigh) and Darwin Ceren (ankle) have returned to training this past week but may not yet be quite match ready.
Suspensions: Center back Seb Hines (yellow card accumulation).
International absences: None.
Since Kaká and Darwin Ceren are both back in training and I'm going to be optimistic and include them in my projected starting XI (4-2-3-1): Joe Bendik; Brek Shea, Tommy Redding, David Mateos, Kevin Alston; Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren; Adrian Winter, Kaká, Kevin Molino; Cyle Larin.
In Audio Form:
Mitchell Tierney of Waking the Red was on the Mane Land's podcast this week to talk about the match. The interview starts at 39 minutes, but for more insight into Toronto FC's opposition, why not listen into the whole thing.