What Are They All About? Orlando City SC
Back on the field. After a twenty-four-day hiatus, the Chicago Fire will return to competitive play this weekend against Orlando City at Toyota Park (4:00 CT, ESPN+). Although the team played an historic friendly against Bayern Munich during that time, such a long break at the tail end of the season certainly isn’t the norm. While some might view that period as a negative—loss of sharpness, match fitness, and momentum—it could be a turning point for this Chicago side.
The Fire currently find themselves on a run of ten league matches without a win and their Bavarian vacation might be seen as a second pre-season of sorts. Team bonding, world class training facilities, an aura of history, and a break from the negativity surrounding their record this season might prove to be a breath of fresh air for a side that is mathematically still in the playoff hunt.
Orlando enters this fixture equal on points with Chicago (ahead on the “total wins” tiebreaker) albeit in a very different phase of their club’s development. Despite being just four years into their MLS venture, Owner Flávio Augusto da Silva and CEO Alex Leitao are amidst yet another club rebuild. A brand-new stadium, an influx of spending on the squad (both MLS funny money and cold hard cash), and a fourth coach in four years have not been enough to build a sense of identity in Orlando, nor have they achieved success in any tangible measure.
A high probability of missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season looms on the horizon and memories of Kaka won’t be enough to appease the fans. Both teams are in dire straits and Sunday’s fixture is just a contest in which the prize is prolonging the inevitable. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Orlando Form Guide: L-D-L-L-D
Previous Result: A 1-0 away loss to Sporting Kansas City.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Bendik; Spector, Ascues, O’Neil, Sutter; Rosell, Johnson; Mueller, Higuita, Kljestan; Dwyer
Strengths: This is the second meeting between these two teams this year (Chicago earned all three points at Toyota Park in May) and many of the strengths that we highlighted for this Orlando side remain. On paper, the squad is one of the strongest in the East and statistically they thrive in areas where Chicago has struggled (possession, shots conceded to goals ratio, and giving up goals from crosses). Let’s see where else they might succeed on Sunday.
He’s Back: In their previous encounter Chicago lucked out on not having to deal with USMNT striker Dom Dwyer. The English born attacker has made quite the name for himself in the league, failing to reach double digit goals just once in the last five seasons. Dynamic, bulldog-ish, and fearless are just some of the descriptors that come to mind for Dwyer and he’ll be looking at Sunday’s match as yet another opportunity to cement his name in the history books with a seventy-fifth MLS career goal. A tally against Chicago would move Dwyer into twenty-first on the all-time scorers’ chart at the spry age of twenty-eight, quite an achievement considering Orlando’s dismal season.
Yoshi 1Up: Speaking of returning players, Orlando will also be welcoming back Yoshi Yotun from international duty after the Peruvian went eighty-nine minutes against the Netherlands and seventy-five minutes against Germany during the international break this week. Although he may have a bit of travel fatigue, continued international minutes in a year that has already included World Cup appearances cannot be a bad thing.
The Peruvian playmaker/winger has registered four goals and fourteen assists since joining Orlando from Malmo last August and consistently looks like a world class player. No matter what knee jerk reactions the Lions’ front office makes in the offseason, Yotun is sure to be a constant on the field over the next few years. He’s a player that Orlando can build around and will certainly cause a headache for Chicago on Sunday.
Weaknesses: A team does not find themselves joint bottom of the East on accident. Last time out we highlighted Orlando’s inability to defend the flanks, Jason Kreis' last chance to succeed (boy were we right there…), and a culture of failure as negatives. Let’s see where else they might struggle.
Different Personnel, Same Problems: In the wake of Jason Kreis’ firing, Orlando’s top brass knew they needed to find a coach that would hopefully offer them a sense of stability going forward. They turned to former Louisville City Manager James O’Connor, a man who seemingly ticked all of the boxes. He won the USL title last season (after finishing second in the regular season for three consecutive years), has European pedigree (playing in the EPL throughout his career), and has a unique connection to the club (he played for Orlando in the USL to finish out his career). However, even the perfect hiring doesn’t automatically undo the problems he’s inherited…
We spoke about Orlando’s inability to deal with opponents stretching the field vertically or horizontally last time out. That specific problem remains despite O’Connor’s attempts to remedy it. Having spent a good chunk of money on Lamine Sane to shore up the backline and diverting the remainder of their transfer funds to attack minded players, rounding out the defense was always going to be a struggle. What’s worse, Sane seems to have played himself out of the team after failing to adjust to the league and O’Connor has trusted fellow Irishman Shane O’Neil and the Venezuelan Carlos Ascues to deputize at center back. With a league leading goals against total of sixty-two the changes have not stopped the leak.
Additionally, the switch of center back pairing has left O’Connor with a couple of thirty-two-year olds, Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter, on the flanks, a combo that has failed to keep up with attacking wingers. The likes of Fafa Picault, Gerso Fernandes, Yohan Croizet, Ezequiel Barco, and Hector Villalba have torn this Orlando side to shreds in recent weeks. If Veljko Paunovic trusts the likes of Daniel Johnson or Raheem Edwards to play across the field from Aleksandar Katai, the Fire might get the better of Orlando for a second time this season.
Abysmal Form: No matter what Orlando’s squad looks like on paper, results don’t lie. The Floridian outfit is winless in their last nine matches and have won just once in their last nineteen MLS encounters. We can analyze their faults at length by pouring through video and statistics, but the bottom line is that Orlando needs to win all seven of their remaining matches to have any hope of making the playoffs and that just isn’t going to happen.
MLS Voodoo: In what has become a reoccurring feature of our column, history does not bode well for Chicago’s opponents. Orlando City has only beaten Chicago twice in their team’s history (3-2 and 1-0, both at Toyota Park in 2015). Since then, they have drawn four times and Chicago has won twice in MLS and once in the Open Cup. History tends to repeat itself in this league so the best the visitors can hope for is a point.
Prediction: The Fire will dangle the string of mathematical possibility in front of their fans for a while longer. Chicago 3-1 Orlando. Michael DeLeeuw, Raheem Edwards, and Alan Gordon for the hosts. Dom Dwyer with the consolation for the visitors.