Sporting KC have still yet to find a win in the last seven matches. Now they welcome Orlando City SC to Children's Mercy Park on Sunday afternoon. I got with Michael Citro from over at our fellow SB Nation blog, The Mane Land, to discuss the second ever MLS meeting between the two sides.
We ask them...
1) Orlando City finished 5 points off the playoff pace in their inaugural MLS season last year, but there was plenty to hang your hat on including the fantastic fan support. Were fans happy with the first season, and what kind of expectations are there for this season?
Michael Citro: I think fans were satisfied with the inaugural season, although it was full of what might have been. What might have been without so many injuries? What might have been if not for so many red cards? What might have been if not for so many untimely international absences? It would have taken only few breaks for this team to have truly defied expectations and claw its way into the playoffs.
This season, expectations have gone through the roof. The fans and the club expect a playoff appearance. Adrian Heath himself has said he believes his job is on the line if he doesn’t get the Lions into the postseason. The team is deeper and less reliant this season on prospects who are not yet MLS ready. I don’t think a playoff appearance would even be enough for some of our fans. There are those who truly believe this team should make a deep playoff run. I personally think that’s possible but I don’t expect it. In my view, this year’s Orlando City will be fighting for one of the final playoff spots again, and I believe that can be achieved with a little better injury luck than last year and if the ridiculous officiating mistakes even out over the course of the season.
2) Cyle Larin has picked up right where he left off after being named the 2015 AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year. He's got 4 goals and 2 assists already. What makes him so successful and how can he be stopped?
MC: He’s just got a perfect striker’s build. He’s big, strong, quick, and so athletic. He can run past a defender or use his strength to hold them off. He’s got a powerful shot and generally gets a good percentage of his attempts on frame. I’m not sure how to stop him. Teams have tried shadowing him, putting two men on him, and fouling the hell out of him but it doesn’t seem to stop him. The best way is probably to somehow force him wide, where he can fall into uncertainty of how to think his way past multiple defenders. His passing is good, but not great, and the other attacking players tend to be pass-first guys, so if you can force Larin wide, it often stalls Orlando’s attack.
That said, he did set up the last two game-tying goals, starting from a wide position, so maybe he’s even learning how to do that. So…good luck with that.
3) It isn't as bad as Sporting, but OCSC is on a five game winless streak of their own and only have two wins on the season. Any reason to be concerned going forward?
MC: Some people are concerned but I don’t necessarily share that. Orlando City has been bitten hard by some officiating decisions in just about every one of those games. Everyone seems to know about the handball-that-wasn’t on former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Servando Carrasco, but there have been others equally harmful. Officiating decisions aside, Orlando has shown the mettle to battle back for points when behind in games, which is a quality that was often lacking last season. And there have been some key absences during the current skid, most notably Kaká being out a couple of those games. Last week represented the first time Adrian Heath had pretty much his pick of the squad to choose from, with the only exceptions being reserve forward/midfielder Pedro Ribeiro (back surgery) and left back Luke Boden, who was well enough to do a rehab stint in the USL with Orlando City B.
If the club can stay healthy for long enough to build some chemistry, we should start seeing better results (although it doesn’t help that Cristian Higuita took a silly red card last week or that Heath got a one-game suspension for grabbing a stray ball that went a few yards onto the pitch). Antonio Nocerino has struggled in MLS so far, but has shown signs of the light starting to come on. David Mateos has reclaimed his starting spot on the back line and provides a calm presence under pressure. Kaká and Larin are back healthy. Now the team just has to go out and play like they can.
The Mane Land Predictions:
I think Orlando City will go with a 4-3-2-1 that looks something like: Joe Bendik; Brek Shea, Seb Hines, David Mateos, Rafael Ramos; Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco, Darwin Ceren; Kaká, Kevin Molino; Cyle Larin.
In a tough environment, I think Orlando City will struggle to finish chances and the back line hasn’t been consistent enough lately to keep a clean sheet so I’ll predict a 1-1 draw.
They ask us...
1. It's been awhile since our two teams have met. Who are Sporting Kansas City’s key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how have they affected Peter Vermes’ team and approach this year?
Cody Bradley: The big one is of course the loss of Krisztian Nemeth. Nemo wanted more money (the team did offer him more when they didn't have to, just not enough) and things kind of went south between the two sides. Brad Davis and Justin Mapp were brought in for attacking reinforcements and Davis has been playing on the wing opposite Graham Zusi. Justin Mapp has been injured and played a total of 8 minutes thus far. The best addition has been Portugese defender Nuno André Coelho. He is tied with David Ousted for first in minutes played (they've both gone the full 90 all 12 matches) for all of MLS, and he has been damn good basically every single one of those minutes. Diego Rubio is also a new arrival as a young DP on loan from the Spanish 2nd division. He is Dom's backup at striker and Vermes only has until June 30 to decide if he wants to purchase the player or send him back to Spain.
Brad Davis has two goals, both of which were really impressive. He has been almost as good as anybody on this team (not that it's really saying much), but the offense is undoubtedly missing some bite with the loss of Nemeth. He was incredibly dangerous cutting in and attacking from the wing, while Zusi and Davis are probably more content to send in a cross. This means Dwyer gets all the attention from both CB's, and he has been struggling to get proper service.
When Coelho arrived, it was unsure where he fit into the depth chart. He established himself as a starter over Ike Opara and he's given Vermes three very good defenders. He's also provided him with some versatility. Coelho has a bit of David Luis in him in. He's very technical and is able play in front of the CB's as a defensive midfielder. He fancies himself to take long range shots and let me tell you, I've seen some absolutely ridiculous free kicks from him in training. His quality and versatility even led to Vermes switching up his beloved 4-3-3.
The jury is still out on Diego Rubio. You can see that the instincts and talent are there, but he hasn't had much time to get used to the league and settle in. He does have one goal to his name in his 162 minutes for SKC. Rubio is the ONLY other option for striker behind Dwyer and has provided much needed depth, at the very least.
2. SKC got off to a good early start to the season but entered the midweek game at Colorado on a run of poor form, going 0-4-2 in the last six and 1-5-2 in the last nine. What’s up with the team and how are the fans reacting to it? Are they calling out Vermes?
CB: Admittedly, most fans are not handling it well. And that's not to say they should be. This organization promises, and this fan base expects, much more from Sporting KC. Two goals in the last five matches is just unacceptable. Call us snobs, but we demand hardware.
That being said, I'm far from panicking. SKC is only 9 points off the top of the table. They have given themselves a chance to get a result in almost every match. The defense has been pretty good at limiting chances and they haven't conceded more than two goals in a match. And hell, Sporting is actually getting shots off as well. They just simply are not good ones. Another thing to keep in mind is that the top six teams on the Supporter's Shield table are the teams that have done the damage to KC.
There are of course some people who will blame Vermes. But the guy has done everything you could want from a manager in a slump. After a couple poor displays he stepped up intensity in training and had the boys in two teams playing a REAL feisty 1v1 game. After a couple more bad games he switched up his formation and his tactics (I really can't stress enough how big of a deal it is that Vermes switched up his 4-3-3. He loves that formation like Orlando loves Dom Dwyer. You know, like so much that he actually hurt himself a little bit (: ). Then when it got really bad, he benched his star players who were not performing in favor young guns like Jimmy Medranda.
It's definitely not good right now. But I'm confident they will get this turned around. PV is a great coach and there is simply too much talent for them to continue this trend.
3. What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from Sporting KC this weekend against what is most likely going to be some variation of a 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3 by Orlando City, and what do you view as the game's key match-up?
CB: When the Galaxy came to town, Vermes really did throw out something different. He went with a veteran heavy lineup and figured out a way to get his best players on the field. The formation is still a mystery, but all three CB's were playing and Graham Zusi was at right-back...or something. The team looked pretty solid, but he immediately went back to the 4-3-3 the last two games. He liked the way they played on Wednesday night so I imagine we see it again.
Because the issue has been in the final third and with finishing, the key match-up simply has to be Dom Dwyer against Orlando's CB's Mateos and Hines. Dwyer set himself a mark of 30 goals to aim for this year. But he's only got four goals right now and hasn't scored in the last six games.
In the very likely event that Dwyer is benched and/or rested this game, the key match-up would remain in the same spot on the field. This could be a big chance for Rubio to earn a permanent spot on the team.
The Blue Testament Predictions:
Ike Opara is suspended for a ridiculous second yellow card on Wednesday night. For the most part, everyone else is available.
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Amadou Dia, Nuno Coelho, Matt Besler, Chance Myers, Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, Brad Davis
Defense has been pretty damn solid. KC has 2 goals in 5 games and haven't scored in 2 straight. I think they have to run into a goal at some point.
Sporting KC 1 - 0 Orlando City