When? Saturday November 21, 9 a.m. PT, 12:00 ET and 5.00 p.m. GMT.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on UniMas, TUDN, the TUDN app, TSN1/4, TVA Sports, MLSSoccer.com and the MLS app, YES and Fox 35 Plus for residents of the United States and Canada. FreeSports (Freeview channel 64) and on the app for us U.K. folk. The game is also available via radio locally. Check local listings.
The excitement around Orlando City SC and its supporter base is at fever pitch as the team gear up for their historic first play-off clash. And who should be the first opponents? NYCFC. The team who featured against us in our MLS bow back in 2015. The team who visited as we opened Orlando City Stadium in 2017. There could be no more fitting opponent than Ronny Deila's team, for such an historic occasion.
Not only is this match-up a poignant nod to our past, but also an encounter loaded with intrigue, with the potential to be a real humdinger. There is a palpable sense of excitement among the supporter base. One I wish I could sample in person. Alas, my couch will have to do. Thank you Covid-19 for your decimation of international travel. Anyway such limitations will not prevent me from being an excited, nervous wreck come Saturday afternoon...
The obvious threat to Orlando City, as far as NYCFC are concerned, is Maxi Moralez. The mercurial Argentine exponentially improves this team. It's no surprise that the Bronx-based club's return to form has coincided with his reintegration to the team. The 4-3 win over Chicago underlined his importance to this team, as he provided 2 assists that helped get his team over the line (figure 1). The similarities between his importance to the team, and Mauricio Pereyra's for ourselves cannot be overstated. Like our own South American no. 10, Moralez provides an outlet in the middle of the park. His excellent close control and ability to break lines with his passing, mean that players like Jesús Medina and Gary Mackay-Steven are not starved of service. This is a particularly useful characteristic, especially when you consider how this team attacks. They are not prone to focusing their attacks down one particular flank, or indeed through the middle (figure 2). They can hit you from anywhere, and Moralez is a huge part of that.
The caveat to all of Moralez's intricate play is the plethora of attacking options before him. The aforementioned Mackay-Steven and Medina aren't exactly static players. This NYCFC attack is not as truncated as many observers would have you believe. Even the enigmatic Ismael Tajouri-Shradi can cause any number of problems on his day. Valentín Castellanos hasn't exactly torn up the league this season, but his movement is excellent. And that's exactly where this forward line excels. Movement. The movements of Castellanos, Mackay-Steven, Medina and Tajouri-Shradi open up passing lanes for Moralez and thereby stretch defences. They can overload you very easily. Oscar Pareja and his team will be weary of that.
Figure 1 shows a few of Moralez's statistics from the recent win over Chicago.
Figure 2 shows how NYCFC vary their attacks. They don't focus on a particular flank, or going through the middle.
There is a real element of Dr Jekyll meets Mr Hyde with this team. On their day, they are capable of destroying any team in this league. They are just as likely to implode, however. They very nearly did so on Decision Day, coming perilously close to surrendering a commanding lead to a Chicago Fire team that haven't been... Well. Fire in 2020. This team has plundered a very respectable 37 goals in 23 regular season games this season, scoring multiple goals on 12 occasions overall. Their offensive threat is considerable. They have been hampered by key departures and injuries in the final third, but said absences do not seem to have depleted their ability to stick the ball in the back of the ol' onion bag.
All that being said, they do have their defensive frailties; much like ourselves. Against Chicago, as well as allowing 3 goals they conceded 20 shots (figure 3). To a team that finished 11th in the east. Raphael Wicky's team caused them no end of problems on the defensive side of the game. Robert Beric, Ignacio Aliseda and Przemysław Frankowsk in particular; with their direct play. The trio combined for 6 successful dribbles, 3 goals, 2 assists and 5 key passes. We all know how direct Chris Mueller et al like to be. They could have some joy here.
Figure 3 shows an overview of NYCFC's win over Chicago.
Orlando City have a few selection dilemmas heading into their play-off debut. The potential absences of Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez are particularly problematic. Both are currently away on international duty, and may have to sit a mandatory 10 day quarantine. The club were exploring the possibility of the players using charter flights to side step the MLS self isolation period. Dom Dwyer (knee injury), Joao Moutinho (groin injury), Michael Halliday (not medically cleared) and David Loera (not medically cleared) are all set to miss out. On the bright side, Uri Rosell and Mauricio Pereyra are both set to be available.
EDIT 19/11/20: Pedro Gallese will be available for the game on Saturday, however Sebas Mendez will not be.
Ronny Deila's team, on the other hand also have a substantial absentee list. NYCFC are set to be without Gedion Zelalem (knee injury, out for season), Tayvon Gray (out for season), Heber (torn ACL 9/23, out for season) and James Sands (right foot fracture, out for season).
Possible starting XI
Considering the players that are now unavailable to Ronny Deila in NYCFC's attack, their recent renaissance seems all the more remarkable. The untimely departure of Alexandru Mitriță was most unfortunate, especially given the fact that Heber is out for the season. The resurgence of Maxi Moralez was most fortuitous. The Argentine has breathed new life into this attack. An attack that has yielded 10 of the 12 goals NYCFC have scored during their recent run of 4 consecutive victories. I expect to see the same line-up that we saw in their recent 4-3 win over Chicago, with Moralez, Gary Mackay-Steven, Valentín Castellanos and Jesús Medina spearheading the forward line.
Moralez has undoubtedly been a huge miss for NYCFC at times this season. The influential Argentine was missing for a large chunk of September and October, and as such has only featured in
13 games this season. If you don't understand how important Moralez is to this team, you only need to look at his contributions during this team's recent winning streak. The former Atalanta playmaker has chalked up 3 assists and 1 goal in their 4 game hot streak. On his day he's definitely one of the best attacking players in MLS. His 2019 season stats say it all. His 7 goals and 20 assists on the season helped NYCFC to top the east. Orlando will need to shut him down, in order to thwart NYCFC's attacking force.
Orlando head into this historic clash off of the back of a bitterly disappointing 3-2 home defeat to Nashville. The Lions had been in good form prior to that encounter, having won their last 3. The crushing win over Atlanta seemed to put some wind in their sales. One of the highest scoring teams in the league, Orlando will fancy their chances against this NYCFC defence.
Ronny Deila's team are arguably the MLS' hottest team right now, having won 4 games on the spin heading into the post-season. The return of the talismanic Maxi Moralez has provided this team with a real shot in the arm. The team from Yankee Stadium look more like the 64-point-team they were last season. This promises to be a fascinating game for all concerned.
Line-up graphic by chosen11.com