Toronto FC has a chance to go undefeated on their current three-game road trip when they travel to Orlando to take on Orlando City SC. The two clubs are trending in very different directions, with Toronto FC being one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference while Orlando has struggled to stay in a playoff spot all season.
In Orlando, however, all bets are off. Toronto FC lost the last time they played at the Citrus Bowl on a controversial late goal. Orlando has only lost once at home all season, with the vast majority of their home games ending in ties.
Waking the Red caught up with Orlando City SC's SB Nation site, the Mane Land, to talk about Wednesday's match. Here's a glimpse into what has been going on in Orlando.
1. The inverse of Toronto FC, Orlando has only won once since the two clubs last met. What's been behind this poor run of form?
You can probably chalk some of that up to two coaching changes. When Orlando City beat Toronto FC back on June 25, it was the fifth game in a five-match unbeaten streak. The next MLS match was a bad loss at FC Dallas and Adrian Heath was let go. Then, after interim head coach Bobby Murphy went 0-1-3 in four games at the helm, Jason Kreis took over, winning his first game and since losing against Seattle before drawing twice.
There are certainly signs of improvement as the players train hard to get accustomed to what Kreis expects of them, but there have been growing pains as well, including perhaps a bit of overtraining. The team looked fresher at the end of the Colorado match despite playing on the road at altitude. That began a stretch of three matches in nine days, though, so it might get a little worse before it starts an upward (hopefully) trajectory. Three points at home against Toronto would certainly be a nice sign of improvement.
2. Has Orlando changed its approach at all to try and win games that are tied late? Because draws seem to be killing their season.
Well, the thing about that is there are different kinds of draws...ones where the Lions have played well enough to win and shipped a late goal on a set piece, and ones where the team rallies from behind to earn a point out of nothing. Saturday's was neither, as both teams played a cagey defense-first style throughout the night and neither generated many chances.
I think Kreis did go for the win at Colorado, taking off an ineffective Julio Baptista and replacing him with Matias Perez Garcia, but the options were somewhat limited with Kevin Molino being out. A healthy Molino would have put an additional trustworthy attacking option on the bench for Kreis to use at the end.
3. How has this team played differently since the hiring of Jason Kreis, and do you expect it will be good enough to sneak them into one of the final playoff spots?
I'll answer the second part first. If Orlando City's players can gel over a difficult final stretch of the schedule, they're certainly good enough to make the playoffs in what passes for the MLS Eastern Conference these days. But it has to come together quickly and it will likely be a matter of trying to win the match-ups against D.C. United and Columbus, and then grabbing whatever other points they can. The talent is there when it plays as a cohesive unit (and can stay healthy and un-suspended), but there are depth issues and some bench players who can't be counted on, such as Carlos Rivas and rookie Hadji Barry.
As for how they've played, we've seen a few subtle differences but not major changes. Despite the Seattle game and the two set piece goals against Chicago, there does appear to be a more concerted effort at playing team defense. In addition, we've seen Kreis invert his wingers so that they're cutting inside onto their dominant foot, where they can either thread a pass or fire a shot on goal. His wingers aren't just crossers for Cyle Larin. They're expected to try for goal too. Other than that, there have been little experiments to see what players are capable of. We've seen Kaká more on the left in recent weeks, for example, with guys like Molino, MPG, and Baptista in the middle.
Projected Orlando Starting XI
Injuries: Cristian Higuita, Pedro Ribeiro, and possibly Molino.