The Fire and Orlando City SC will meet for a fourth and final time this season (assuming that they don't meet in the playoffs). Martin Tomszak takes yet another look at the Lions, who could be without Kaka in this match.
And yeah, the playoff remark is not to be taken seriously.
What Are They All About? Orlando City SC
Hope remains? After a blistering start that saw the Chicago Fire gain a two goal advantage over the New York Red Bulls, they collapsed in typical fashion by allowing their opponent to score three unanswered goals in a 3-2 loss at Red Bull Arena last Friday. However, the good news for Chicago is that everyone around them at the bottom of the conference is showing the same ineptitude in climbing the table. Montreal seems to be happy with tying all of their games in hand, Philly lost at the weekend, and although NYCFC and Orlando both won this week, their previous five results have not instilled a sense of confidence in either side.
All of this means that Chicago mathematically still has a chance of snatching that sixth playoff spot. They will look to make a statement against Orlando on Saturday, where a win will put them three points away from the red line. Having won just seven matches all season, it looks highly unlikely that the Fire can win at least five of their last six to make the necessary push but as they say, “The ball is round”.
Orlando Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): W-L-D-L-L
Previous match: A 3-1 home victory over Sporting Kansas City.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1, Hall; Boden, Mateos, Collin, Ramos; Higuita, Carrasco; Rivas, Neal, Winter; Larin
Strengths: If you feel burnt out reading Chicago vs. Orlando previews we don’t blame you. This is the fourth meeting between the two sides this season. They have played twice in the league, an Orlando victory at Toyota Park and a draw at the Citrus Bowl during a tropical storm, and once in Open Cup play, a victory for the Fire at home. Interestingly enough, each time the sides meet the stakes seem to be higher and the line ups are drastically different, making for an easier read.
Can’t Stop Us Now: Orlando will come into the match with their confidence flying high after claiming the scalp of yet another Western Conference team (emphatic wins over Portland and L.A had many a pundit scratching their heads). Their Sunday night victory over Kansas City was much needed after getting thrashed by New England the week before. Adrian Heath shook up the starting XI as well as the tactics and it paid off immediately with a third minute Orlando goal and a fifth minute near miss. A side that has been known for their quickness and counterattacking play displayed those traits against KC but there was also a maturity in soaking up pressure and being smart in possession with the lead, something that should scare Chicago when reviewing tape.
Additionally, Heath’s men seemed to have extra motivation in working on both sides of the ball. Whatever he said in the locker room prior to kick off worked because a team that has typically been lazy in recovering the ball and atrocious defensively looked strong in the tackle, quick in pressing and closing down after losing possession, and took a no nonsense approach to clearing the ball in dangerous areas. Krisztian Nemeth’s goal aside, Orlando seemed to have remedied its most obvious weaknesses against KC (at least for one match). Oh, and did we mention that Kaka was missing in this match?
Motivation: Orlando finds itself in a position where all three points on Saturday could put them above the red line into that ever coveted sixth place spot. They will also be looking ahead to a tough match against the Red Bulls the following week realizing that three points in Chicago will be quite the set up to a final run in that includes matches against Montreal, NYCFC, and Philadelphia. More so than any other team in the East, Orlando’s fate is in their own hands. Chicago find themselves in a situation where the locker room is crumbling, hopes are disappearing, and tactics are simply not working, Orlando will fancy their chances on Saturday.
Weaknesses: Alright, alright, enough with the pessimism with regards to Chicago. If you scroll up slightly you’ll notice that before that KC win Orlando had lost three and drawn one of its previous four. Like with any team in the bottom five of the East, inconsistency is rampant and terrible play is frequent. Adrian Heath’s men allowed thirteen goals and seventy-three shots in those four matches for goodness sake! If you take that KC match off the radar then OCSC is in horrendous shape going into this match. In fact that win was only their second in thirteen matches… Let’s take a look at the circus that is Orlando City’s back line.
Maybe Some One Else Will Pick Him Up: If there is a phrase that describes Orlando’s defensive tactics that has to be it. It is absolutely astounding to see that Orlando has been on the wrong end of 3-0, 5-0, 4-0, 3-1, 4-1 results in the last few weeks. They simply refuse to address glaring defensive issues. They have fielded four completely different starting back fours in their last five matches, none of which has worked particularly well. The consistency, the communication, and the chemistry simply aren’t there.
Hey! I’m Working on My Tan Here: Some of the defensive issues have to do with the fact that they had to pick up David Mateos as a replacement for Sean St. Ledger in the summer window and the gelling process between the center backs has taken longer than expected, but it also has largely to do with Aurelien Collin looking like a shadow of the former shadow of himself.
The lone goal that KC mustered off of a Nemeth rocket came after Collin gave him too much space and missed his tackle. All three goals against New England came from within the box in a central location, Collin’s area… Diego Fagundez outpaced him for the first, Juan Agudelo left him ball watching with a hopeful shout for offside on the second, and Collin got no help while comically trying to cover centrally on the third. What’s worse is he was caught out on three other occasions only to be saved by Tally Hall or the post.
The same theme was present against Toronto FC with Collin looking like a complete fool with his mistimed tackle on Michael Bradley before TFC’s DP played it across for an easy tap from Marco Delgado for Toronto’s first, and then he watched Bradley blow past him again before crossing in for an assist on Justin Morrow’s goal for the third. We could go on and on but what’s clear is that Collin belongs at a mid-afternoon Guly do Prado day drinking session more so than he does anywhere near a soccer pitch. Fire fans will be hoping that Frank Yallop notices the trend and tells David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to run at Collin with pace.
Another worrying trend for Orlando that plays into the hands of Chicago is the fact that they tend to lose matches in which they concede the first goal. In fact, the last five times Orlando has conceded the first goal they have only walked away with a point once (unfortunately it was against the Fire). However, if Chicago can somehow continue their streak of scoring early but then figure out a way to shut the match down in the second half they might just pull this one off.
Injuries: Aside from long term injuries to Kevin Molino and Conor Donovan, Corey Ashe and Darwin Ceren are back in training after missing time, while Kaka is questionable. This means that Orlando will be missing some midfield creativity and that the backline depth will be tested.
Prediction: Your guess is as good as ours at this point. Historically speaking Chicago likes to string its supporters along until the very end so let’s say Chicago 5-3 Orlando. Your Chicago goal scorers: Accam, Iggy, Palmer, Larentowicz (PK), Collin (OG). If not, you can still grab a beer at the park and enjoy a cloudy 55° day with 16 mph winds in Bridgeview.