Preview: NYCFC (h).
Saturday May 8, 3 p.m. PT, 6 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on DAZN, ESPN and ESPN Deported for residents of the United States. For us UK folk, the game is being broadcast on FreeSports (Freeview channel 64, and via the FreeSports app).
Without delving too far into the season's schedule, there can't be too many teams with as tough an opening schedule as Orlando City. Having already faced off against Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City, before last week's drubbing of FC Cincinnati, Orlando City face New York City FC. This is a game that I genuinely cannot wait for. Fixtures between these two sides are rarely dull, and have produced some of our most iconic moments. From the Running Of The Wall, to 'Papi, I can do that', and everything else inbetween.
You can bet there will be drama. And what's more, it's a genuinely intriguing soccer match. NYCFC are flying right now. Ronny Deila's team may have lost their opener (2-1 Vs DC United), but they've responded superbly. Their recent 2-0 win in Philadelphia was proceeded by a 5-0 thrashing of FC Cincinnati. They're genuinely one of the most dangerous teams in the entire league. But, then again so are we. This is the archetypal 'great for the neautrals' match-up. So, without further ado, let's get stuck into this fascinating clash.
This is an opponent, I'm pretty sure you're all familiar with. NYCFC will provide, arguably, our sternest test of the season so far. They're a team that's loaded with attacking talent, who can punish you given the slightest opportunity. They can just as easily dominate possession, or allow their opponents to have possession before robbing them and destroying them on the break. Case and point, look at their win in Philadelphia. This was a game where NYCFC dominated possession, on the road, with 67% of the overall play. No fewer than 5 New York players held the top 5 possession standings (figure 1). Maxi Moralez held 9.9% of the overall possession in that game. Shutting him down, as ever, is going to be critical. However, against Cincinnati they let the visitors have more of the ball, before devastating them on the break.
Figure 1 shows the top 5 ranked players, in terms of possession percentages, from their win over Philadelphia.
In their win over FC Cincinnati (where you would possibly expect them to dominate the ball), they only recorded 53% of the overall play. They did, however, perform excellently in terms of their ball recovery. NYCFC won 23 of their tackles, and 13 of their duels. Their individual battles were won all over the field, as their ball recovery standings (figure 2) show. Anton Tinnerholm (RB), James Sands (DMC) and Andres Jason (AML) all led NYCFC in tackles with 4. From different areas of the field. This allowed them to rob Cincinnati and hit them with their pace and quality.
Figure 2 shows the top 5 ranked players, in terms of ball recovery, from their win over FC Cincinnati.
The other aspect of their play, that might be worth mentioning, is their quality in attack. Something we all know about, and that I've referenced already. This team has an abundance of attacking talent on its roster. Maxi Moralez, Valentín Castellanos and Jesús Medina to name just a few. Castellanos and Medina have 3 goals to their names already. Their movement, pace and quality allow them to create plenty of opportunities moving forwards. They're also not afraid to shoot, as their season shot percentage stats will testify (figure 3).
Figure 3 shows the average shot percentage stats, for both teams, on the season so far.
However they decide to approach this game, you can bet it'll be our toughest examination yet.
Both teams have a number of selection headaches, heading into this game. Thiago Andrade isn't expected to be involved, just yet. The $2m buy from Dahlia has yet to receive visa clearance. Héber continues to be sidelined with a knee injury. The MLS injury report states that former Lion Tony Rocha and Gedion Zelalem are listed as questionable.
As for the Lions, there are no fresh injury concerns to any starters. David Loera continues to nurse a lower leg injury. Alexandre Pato is out. The Brazilian underwent surgery this week, and is expected to miss up to 6 weeks. Robin Jansson and Joao Moutinho are listed as 'questionable', though both were available in the 18 last week. Uri Rosell is still a doubt; there was no further update at the time of writing.
Possible starting XI
Ronny Deila likes his teams to be be fluid, in terms of their formation. It's something he was often criticised for at Celtic, but it seems to be working a treat in New York. NYCFC had a solid season in 2020, finishing 5th in the East and 5th overall. Their success is owed, at least in part, to their ability to switch formation according to their opponent. Against Cincinnati, they started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which enabled them to overload Cincinnati. In Philadelphia, however, they utilised more of a 3-1-4-2.
The 3 back system gives them more of a solid defensive spine. It also means that someone like Keaton Parks, can drop in alongside the 6 and snuff out that space Mauricio Pereyra loves so much. As such, I see them utilising this system against us. Particularly as they're away from home. Jesús Medina has been in fine form, but I can see him starting this one from the bench. We have so much quality in midfield, I can see them going for a more defensive minded structure. Without being too defensive. That's just not how they roll.
With a goal in each of his first 3 MLS games this season, Valentín Castellanos has continued where he left off towards the end of 2020. The pacy striker scored 5 goals in 4 games down the stretch, as he further underlined his potential to become the club's starting striker. With only 14 starts to his name last season, he looks determined to cement his spot for this season. Thus far he's started all 3 games, and hasn't been subbed off in any of them.
The unfortunate injury to Héber has, perhaps, been a little fortuitous for Castellanos. Whilst he would undoubtedly never wish to see his fellow striker injured, the Brazilian's absence has allowed Castellanos to shine in his place. The former Torque striker has started the season on fire. His pace in behind, and ability to read Maxi Moralez's superb passing ability, make him a particularly threatening opponent. You get the feeling, already, that this could be a huge year for Castellanos.
As I've already alluded to, the Big Apple based club are 2-0-1 for the season. Having lost their opener against DC, they bounced back with consecutive wins over Cincinnati and Philadelphia Union. Ronny Deila's team will be looking to go deeper into the post-season, after they were one and done in 2020. The nature of the Lion's victory that day, will have left a bitter taste in the mouth for many of this NYCFC squad.
Orlando City meanwhile, are 2-1-0 following their own win over FC Cincinnati. The win provided everyone with a timely boost, particularly after the Lions opened the season with 2 draws. There was an riding feeling of an opportunity missed after both of those games. A win here, and the Lions really would be sitting pretty after an incredibly tough opening schedule.