After a tough loss last week, Sporting KC faces another double week game against quality opponents. I got with Michael Citro from over at The Mane Land to discuss the match-up and get some intel on Orlando City SC.
We ask them...
The Blue Testament: Congrats on the shiny new stadium! What is your favorite thing about Orlando City's new home?
Michael Citro: The noise. The crowds were sometimes bigger at the old Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) but the new stadium is built to be noisy and provide a home field advantage. The place pulsates with the drums and chants as play goes on and virtually explodes when Orlando City scores. It’s extremely difficult to put into words how much the atmosphere has changed with the change of address.
TBT: Five games in the next three weeks for the Lions. What kind of depth do they have to handle a tough stretch like that?
MC: The depth is pretty good but it could be better. Injuries among the backup fullbacks have forced Donny Toia and Scott Sutter to play a lot of minutes that could otherwise be eaten up by Rafael Ramos and Kevin Alston. Early in the year, prior to Sutter’s arrival, Will Johnson was even pressed into service at right back and he did surprisingly well.
The other area that could be better is striker. Behind Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas is Giles Barnes and second-year forward Hadji Barry, who is talented and fast, but extremely raw. Barry can completely take over games at the USL level and has shown flashes of that in MLS, but he’s not ready to step in and take over for Larin or Rivas just yet.
TBT: After a blistering start Orlando City has seen two straight losses, including a 4-0 drubbing last time out. Just a blip in the radar or cause for concern?
MC: I look at it as a blip. Orlando City carried much of the play against Toronto FC on the road but dug too deep a hole with two early goals allowed to Sebastian Giovinco. Larin had two uncharacteristic misses on perfect setups in the second half that could have turned that game around. The Lions deserved at least a point in that game and could have taken all three.
Three nights later in Houston, the club simply had no legs left and back line leader Jonathan Spector sat out with an ankle knock. He might have been able to keep the back four in better shape, but instead two young center halves – Tommy Redding and Jose Aja – played together for the first time. Redding and Aja played OK, but there was a noticeable chemistry issue between the center backs and fullbacks and communication was also lacking. Redding departing for the U-20 World Cup won’t help with the upcoming busy schedule.
The Lions should be able to regroup but the upcoming road certainly isn’t very easy.
The Mane Land Lineup Prediction:
I think we’ll see a return of Jason Kreis’ favorite starting XI for this match:
Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Scott Sutter; Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Kaká; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.
They ask us...
The Mane Land: It seems that the key to Sporting Kansas City’s early season success has been a stingy defense. How has the club improved at the back this year and can it sustain this kind of quality throughout the year?
Cody Bradley: Each of the back four have been on the team a long time. They understand the system, what is required of them, and the biggest thing this year has been that they know each other. The cohesion among these guys is amazing.
The left side of the defense – Besler and Sinovic – have literally been playing together since youth soccer growing up in KC. The two of them have really hit full stride after dealing with injuries and falling out of favor. Ike Opara is simply doing what he has always done, he is just finally staying healthy. What really brought it all together is Graham Zusi moving to right back. He has proven to be one of the most effective RBs in MLS going forward. He's obviously shown he can lock it down at the back as well. He brings a veteran presence and technical ability to the position that has added a wonderful dynamic to the squad.
As the loss to Minnesota made crystal clear, those four players working together are why the defense is so good. To answer your question, yes they can continue if everyone stays healthy.
TML: Many Orlando City fans will be disappointed not to see former Lion Dom Dwyer in the lineup due to his yellow card suspension. How has Dom managed to accumulate so many bookings early this season and how do you expect Peter Vermes to replace his threat in the offense?
CB: Dom Dwyer is going to Dom Dwyer. Yellow cards are part of the territory. A couple of them were really bad decisions of his, but Orlando fans know very well the kind of player he is. He tackles hard. He likes to talk. And stuff happens.
I would really, really love to see Homegrown Player Daniel Salloi get the nod in Dwyer's absence. He has been coming on late at the end of matches and done his job very well. The young Hungarian can be absolutely lethal and he needs more time on the pitch. But Soony Saad may be the favorite to start on Saturday. He has a bit more experience than Salloi and has seemingly been the first choice behind Dwyer in the past. As much as I hate to say it, I just haven't been impressed by Saad so far this year. So my hope is Salloi in the center of the attack.
TML: With a home match in the midweek against conference rival Seattle coming up, what kind of squad rotation do you expect from Vermes?
CB: Sporting KC fans will be scared of squad rotation after the Loons shut them out last week, 2-0. But it will have to happen again in the next couple games. There are still eight players who have started and played almost every minute of all 10 matches this year. Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza are two guys I am terrified to see this team play without, although Peter Vermes really isn't in a terrible spot as he has versatility and several options all over the field. It will be very interesting to see who he rests against an Eastern Conference opponent this weekend to rest up for a Western Conference rivalry next Wednesday. Training sessions were pretty secret this week.
TML: What injuries/suspension absences will affect SKC for this match and what is your predicted starting XI and final score?
CB: Injury report is pretty clean. Diego Rubio is the only man on the list as he works back from knee surgery. Dwyer is the only suspension. But squad rotation is the real question. I can't even tell you how much of a toss-up this is so I'm going with a fun one.
The Blue Testament Lineup Prediction:
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Jimmy Medranda, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ilie, Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber, Gerso, Daniel Salloi, Graham Zusi