Preview: Inter Miami (a).
When? Friday June 25, 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET and 1 a.m. BST (26/5).
Where? Some high school bleachers outside of Fort Lauderdale.
How can I catch the action? Residents of the United States can catch the game on Fox Sports 1. Residents of the Greater Orlando area can catch the game on Lion Nation TV, FM 96.9 The Game, 810 AM and Accion 97.9 FM. For us Brits, the games is being broadcast on FreeSports (FreeView channel 64, and via the FreeSports app).
Game 3 of a gruelling week coming up for Orlando City. This has been a fine week for the Lions so far. The return of Nani and Daryl Dike has coincided with back-to-back victories over Toronto and San Jose. Next up is a trip to Fort Lauderdale to take on Phil Neville's hapless side. Many followers of the Lionesses, and women's soccer in general, forecast struggles for David Beckham's franchise, with his mate Phil at the helm. Such concerns have been justified so far, as the Flamingos have toiled to 2 wins in their last 9; losing their last 3.
All signs point to a comfortable Orlando City victory; but football seldom works that way. This sport is the mistress of disappointment. That being said, this Lions team is resurgent. Orlando are sitting pretty right now, and will have the sweet taste of victory in their mouths, following the emphatic win over San Jose. This promises to be an exciting affair.
Fort Lauderdale's style
I'm going to level with you guys, this was a hard subsection to write. Why? I'm not entirely sure what Fort Lauderdale's style is. Don't worry, I've not lost the plot... It's just very difficult to discern, or decipher, what this team is about. Something that was symptomatic of Neville's time in charge of the Lionesses. Most observers of women's football in England are magnanimous about Phil Neville's time in charge of the national team, some less so. His mandate was to challenge the supremacy of the USWNT and ultimately knock them off their perch. He never came close to doing that. Neville's perceived unwillingness to really throw himself into the role, viewing it as a stepping stone to the men's game ultimately led to England's demise. England were regularly out fought, and out thought in his tenure. Something that seems to be ringing true in Fort Lauderdale.
You never quite know what you're going to get with this Fort Lauderdale team, which is brilliant if you're a neutral. Not so much if you're a fan or, like me, a content creator trying to outline the way a team plays. You'll see from the graphics in figures 1, 2 and 3, that they are just as capable of dominating the ball as they are of... Not dominating the ball. One thing is clear, though. They will concede possession, so those transitions are going to be key for Orlando. They like to partake in what I call 'stormtrooper passing'; which is when you never hit your intended target. Might copyright that. In all of their last 3 games they've failed to post a higher pass completion rate than 80%. In fact, they've only done it 3 times this season.
Figure 1 shows Fort Lauderdale's possession based statistics from their most recent loss to DC United.
Figure 2 shows Fort Lauderdale's possession based statistics from their other recent loss to DC United.
Figure 3 shows Fort Lauderdale's possession based statistics from their defeat to Chicago Fire.
Fort Lauderdale are expected to be without Robbie Robinson, Rudolfo Pizzarro and Sami Guediri due to injury. They have no players currently away on international duty. You know... Why would they? They're rubbish. Also, Gregore and Ryan Shawcross are currently suspended. I'd love to have seen Daryl Dike give Shawcross the run around, but c'est la vie, I guess.
Meanwhile, Orlando City will continue to be without Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez, due to their continued involvement in the Copa America. Alexandre Pato and Ruan are also expected to sit this one out as they continue their rehabilitation from their respective injuries.
Possible starting XI
With the enforced exclusion of Gregore and Ryan Shawcross, there will have to be at least 2 changes to this squad. I would also expect Gonzalo Higuain to come back into the XI. Neville favours a 4-2-3-1, it was a staple formation of his during his tenure in charge of the Lionesses.
I'll be honest, Neville isn't exactly known for his tactical nous over here in England. So, I wouldn't expect much variation on this particular formation. As such, I expect Fort Lauderdale to line up a little like this:
Despite the former Napoli striker's inherent, and frankly arrogant, belief that he could come to MLS and 'play with a cigar in his mouth', the veteran striker has yet to do anything much of note. Which is symptomatic of the current malaise around Fort Lauderdale right now. With a mere 5 goals in 16 games since he entered the league, the Argentine forward has realised that MLS isn't the cake walk he imagined it to be. Do you even speak to your brother, Gonzalo? There have been tentative signs of improvement this season, with 4 in 7 so far, but he's yet to take the league by storm. You'd be foolish to totally write him off, however. Higuain has amassed 249 goals in 478 games for AC Milan, Argentina, Chelsea, Fort Lauderdale, Juventus, Napoli and Real Madrid. Orlando City's defenders may have to be at their best if he decides he can be bothered to play on Friday.
Fort Lauderdale's form is in stark contrast to Orlando's. Having only won 2 of 9 games so far, they are currently 2-2-5. They've lost their last 3 games, and are currently languishing in 11th in the East. They will need to improve if they're actually going to make the play-offs this year. You know, the real play-offs.
Oscar Pareja's team, on the other hand, are in fine fettle. Having obliterated the San Jose Earthquakes in midweek. The Lions moved to a 5-3-1 record after 2 wins on the spin so far this week. Orlando currently occupy 2nd in the East, 5 points off New England in 1st, but with a game in hand.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com