This Wednesday marks the first of six games in 20 days in May for Toronto FC (that’s one every 3.33 days), as Orlando City come to town. This is a team that’s historically been kind to Toronto; the Reds are 4-1-1 all-time against Orlando, and an undefeated 2-0-1 against them at BMO Field.
Orlando have started the 2017 season strong, and are currently first in MLS with 18 points. That said, five of their six wins have come at home as a result of a favourable early schedule by virtue of Florida’s warm March climate. Their only loss so far this year was a 2-0 defeat in Columbus.
This road game could be one of Orlando’s toughest tests yet, against a TFC team that seems to be hitting its stride. The Reds are on an extra day’s rest, having played a day earlier on Friday, and this game is a valuable opportunity for them to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference against a hot opponent.
Here are three things to look out for in Wednesday’s match.
1. Squad rotation
This will be TFC’s first midweek game of 2017, which gives Greg Vanney a lot to think about. Of the next two games (against Orlando and at Seattle), which is more important? One has to assume it’d be the home game, against a fellow Eastern Conference contender, but the Reds won’t want to look foolish in an emotional MLS Cup rematch on the weekend.
Having played on Friday, Toronto gets a couple of days extra to prepare for Wednesday’s game. That said, there’s still a good chance we see some changes from the lineup that beat Houston Dynamo. Will Victor Vazquez get a rest, to save his legs? How about Steven Beitashour, who had a tough outing on Friday? This could be a good opportunity for Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio to get into the lineup, too, after seemingly losing their jobs to Marky Delgado.
Vanney took both Vazquez and Delgado off towards the end of the Houston game, indicating he probably wants them fresh for Wednesday. We’ll probably see them start again, but don’t be surprised if they come off early, or even if Delgado slots in on the wing in place of Beitashour.
2. Seba’s favourite foe
There’s a case to be made that Orlando City are Sebastian Giovinco’s favourite team to play against. In five career appearances against them, Seba has four goals and five assists, including a hat-trick back in August 2015. TFC are 4-1 against Orlando with Giovinco in the lineup, only losing once to them on the road last June. In fact, Seba has never gone without either a goal or assist against OCSC.
Orlando’s defence has certainly improved this season, with Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter coming in to shore up the back line and allowing only five goals thus far - the fewest in the Eastern Conference.
That said, Orlando haven’t really been tested by many players of Giovinco’s calibre. He and Jozy Altidore both look like they’re breaking into a run of good form, which could spell trouble. Orlando aren’t great at defending set pieces (where TFC excel, as Oliver showed), and according to WhoScored, they’re “very weak” when it comes to defending highly skilled players. This may have been a couple years ago, but it’s still worth reliving:
3. TFC connections
Orlando’s lineup boasts a couple of former Reds in goalkeeper Joe Bendik and midfielder Will Johnson. Bendik, whom TFC traded down to Florida in 2015, has quietly turned into a very reliable goalkeeper in MLS. He has three clean sheets on the year, and deserves at least some of the credit for Orlando’s ability to keep goals out.
Johnson, who signed in Orlando after helping TFC on their 2016 playoff run, has improved their squad significantly, appearing in all seven games. He has a goal and two assists, and WhoScored gives him the second-highest average match rating on the team (7.29). Just as Sutter and Spector have fixed Orlando’s defence, Johnson seems to have helped in midfield.
The other Toronto-Orlando connection, although a looser one, is Brampton native (and Sigma FC alum) in Cyle Larin, who’s been ripping it up for OCSC this year. The Canadian has six goals and has cemented his reputation as one of the best young players in the league. Larin has appeared at BMO Field both as a foe and a hero, representing Canada several times (TFC fans have even cheered for a Larin goal in 2015, when he scored against Dominica). Larin is an excellent player, and will be by far the greatest threat to Toronto’s back line on Wednesday night.