Will the Dire Days ever end? This week's challenge is an expansion side that more closely mimics the Seattle Sounders' path than any past addition to the league. Orlando City SC is still capable of making the MLS Cup Playoffs if they can correct a seven-match swoon that only earned five points. The hungry Lions come to Seattle where the Sounders look for their own course correction with only three points in their last nine games played.
Both teams have mighty goals in 2015 and this game could be the one on which those hopes swing. Expect a fairly large contingent of travelers. OCSC packs the Citrus Bowl and is building their own 25,500 self-funded downtown prettiness by the end of next season. They'll still have the Citrus Bowl for huge events too.
Michael from The Mane Land answers Three Questions.
SaH: What has Cyle Larin's emergence meant to the attack?
tML: Well, mostly it means that we have one. Orlando City struggled to score goals in the early part of the season. Projected starting striker Martin Paterson, who was recently released by mutual agreement, had a lingering hamstring issue that kept him out of the lineup. The Lions tried a number of different options, with Pedro Ribeiro being the most effective, until Larin finally got to start at Portland in mid-April and he scored his first MLS goal in that match.
Since then, Larin has shown the inconsistency you expect in a young player thrown into the mix before he's really 100% ready, but when he's on, he can be devastating, like his three-goal half at New York City FC a couple of weeks ago. There's really no one else on the team who provides any tooth in the attack like Larin does right now, although you do get the occasional goal by Kaká.
SaH: You get to watch Kaká every week. What's that like?
tML: It's kind of amazing. The captain is just as capable of having an off game as anyone else but even when he does so, he still manages a few 'wow' moments where he'll nutmeg a couple guys or thread a pass through two defenders to set up a teammate in the box.
As an unselfish guy, he tends to look for the pass where you'll maybe want him to take a shot, but he's rarely ever boring.
SaH: Orlando is the best passing team in the league. Is this cautious passing in a defensive manner, or is it an aggressive march up the pitch?
tML: It's a bit of both, owing to the way Adrian Heath likes the team to play. He wants the ball to move and he wants possession. With a guy like Kaká directing things, he tends to demand the ball and then immediately sets his teammates in motion. Also, the defensive midfield of Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita are very adept at breaking up play and pushing the ball around the pitch. The team passes a lot but they're not always going back to the keeper. They probe a lot and there isn't a guy who really likes to take on defenders 1v1 like a David Villa. So I'd say a majority of the passes take place between the center circle and the top of the box as they probe for holes in the defense and try to unlock the defense.
RW Kevin Molino (ACL) - out for the season
LW/LB Brek Shea (sports hernia) - out another week or two
CB Seb Hines (knee) - unknown
GK: Tally Hall
D: Luke Boden, Aurelien Collin, David Mateos, Corey Ashe
DM: Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren
AM: Lewis Neal, Kaká, Adrian Winter
FW: Cyle Larin
tML: Who are three players (expected to play) from Seattle that Orlando City fans should know about?
SaH: First up is Tyrone Mears, the man who replaced DeAndre Yedlin. Mears resurrected his career in Seattle and is looking to be a much stronger defender than Yedlin while offering better passing in the attack. His crosses have been the main source of scoring opportunities during this long, dire period.
Second, recent signing Nelson Valdez will probably start up top with Obafemi Martins since Dempsey is out injured. Most MLS fans know the power of Clinfemi, but what's interesting about Valdez/Martins is that they've played together in the past, with Ruban Kazan. Valdez is kinda short, but great in the air. Like Dempsey he'll drift wide to come in on the attack.
Last, let's go with Stefan Frei. He's third in shutouts, fourth in win percentage, first in saves and second in save percentage among regularly starting keepers. Bill Hamid probably has Keeper of Year on lock (he could be an MVP), but Frei should be a finalist for that award.
tML: What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
SaH: The preferred style and formation is a bit of unknown right now. The team is in the process of re-inventing itself. When they were great during the first 40% of the season they were a central possession team that looked to get a quick strike out of Clint and Oba. It was a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid then. Sunday will do a lot to tell us if they're going to get back to that or use the defensive 4-3-3 that didn't score enough during the dire days.
tML: What are the Sounders' strengths and weaknesses so far in 2015?
SaH: Even during the Dire Days (the 1-8-0 stretch) the defense was generally strong. That will get even stronger after additions of Friberg and Torres, even without Alonso who is injured. The offense is rather pathetic recently, but we have hope. That hope lies at the feet of Obafemi Martins, last year's runner-up in the MVP race. Set-piece defense is horrible, all three of Vancouver's goals against the Sounders came via that route.
tML: What is your predicted starting XI and score prediction (also please list if there are any key suspensions/injuries)?
Absences: Dempsey, Alonso, Barrett, Gonzalez
Predicted Lineup: Frei; Remick, Marshall, Torres, Mears; Neagle, Evans, Friberg, Thomas; Martins, Valdez
Predicted Score: 3-1 Seattle and the Dire Days are done. Hay fe.