If Toronto FC want to go a perfect 3-0 during this current home stand, they will have to come through their toughest test yet. In town tonight are Orlando City, the league’s top team so far this season. Orlando, like Toronto, have only lost once this year - and those were the only points they have dropped so far.
However, they have only played twice away from home this season, and tonight’s trip to BMO Field will undoubtedly be Orlando’s most challenging road test so far. What should follow is an entertaining contest between two of the most in-form teams in the league.
To learn more about Orlando, Waking the Red talked to Michael Citro of The Mane Land, SB Nation’s Orlando City blog. Here’s what we learned about their success so far this season, and how a couple of familiar faces have been doing.
1. A lot has been made of Orlando's home form this season - in a limited sample size, how have they looked on the road?
The Lions have played OK on the road. In the loss at Columbus, it was mostly about not being sharp in the attacking third and paying for two mistakes on defence. At New York City, the team took a defence-first mentality and took advantage of the few chances it created on the offensive end. I would say Orlando didn’t play its best but managed to put together a pair of good road performances.
Moving forward, Jason Kreis will want to see a bit more possession – although the team certainly isn’t afraid to concede the majority of that – and more chances created. If Orlando can keep the ball about 5% more of the game and create a few more chances, the Lions can improve upon their road performances.
2. Cyle Larin has been class again this year, but who else has stepped up for the team early this season?
Although he didn’t show up on the stat sheet much until this past weekend, Carlos Rivas has really been a handful for opposing back lines. His speed and dynamic movement have posed problems and created space for Larin, and his crosses have led to several goals by the Canadian No. 9.
But beyond the scoring, the entire back line has stepped up, led by veteran Jonathan Spector, who reads the game so well and helps get his teammates in the right spots over the course of the game. His tutelage has helped younger centre-backs Jose Aja and Tommy Redding, while full-backs Donny Toia and Scott Sutter have added stability to the flanks. I’ll include the defensive midfield here, as well, as Will Johnson, Cristian Higuita, and Antonio Nocerino have made life difficult in the middle of the pitch for opposing attackers, flushing everything out wide - where Toia and Sutter have been so good.
3. Orlando City coming into town means the return of former Toronto FC and Canada midfielder Will Johnson. How has he fit into the team this year?
The best word to describe what Johnson has brought to the team is ‘reliable’. He’s been solid wherever he’s lined up, whether at defensive midfield in a flat 4-4-2, a right-side wing in the 4-4-2 diamond, or as a right-back early in the season before Sutter arrived and while filling in for a few injuries in that position.
Beyond solid play on the field – and his goal against the Galaxy was spectacular – Johnson has been a leader both by example and vocally on the pitch in the absence of Kaka, who was sidelined just 10 minutes into the season. Having watched him for seven games, it’s not surprising to me that Johnson has helped his team get to the MLS Cup final multiple times and win a couple of championships.
Projected lineup: Bendik; Sutter, Redding, Spector, Toia; Nocerino; Johnson, Higuita; Kaka; Larin, Rivas
Injuries: Rafael Ramos (hamstring)