Both Seattle Sounders FC and Orlando City SC are off-pitch successes. Both teams changed coaches in middle of the season. Both teams have young forwards redefining success as rookies in MLS. Both teams play with South American #10s. There are a lot of similarities between the Lions and the Sounders of 2016.
With a great crowd on hand, and high expectations at the beginning of the year there is little wonder why FoxSports 1 chose this for one of their Sunday matches. The 4 PM Pacific start should reduce the heat in Orlando, at least a little bit. It should only be about 80 with clouds and high humidity.
Michael from The Mane Land answers Three Questions.
SaH: What is the tactical shift going from Heath to Kreis?
tML: So far there's not a sea change between the two. Kreis has come in and tried to nail down the defense a bit and it seemed to pay dividends both against Stoke City in the friendly and in Sunday's game against New England. When healthy, Heath played his wingers on their traditional sides and had them a bit wider where they could either cut inside to play passes around the top of the 18, or stay outside and send crosses into the box. Kreis has his wingers inverted (so far - although he claims that wasn't necessarily a conscious effort on his part), where they can play outside with overlapping fullbacks or cut inside and take strikes at goal on their strong foot or link up with the central players.
The changes have been subtle so far, and Kreis has said he doesn't want to change too much too soon. His plan is to get players doing the kinds of things he wants and instill that in the group before he starts to tinker with the shape. So I'd say we'll likely continue to see the 4-2-3-1 for a bit longer (maybe all season).
SaH: When healthy Kaká's performed quite well. Which teams have slowed him down and how?
tML: Typically, the way teams have defended Kaká is to commit bodies to him. This is typically a pair of defenders, midfielders, or a combination. They also try to choke off the service from his teammates to prevent him getting onto the ball in the first place. This is only effective to a point, partly because if that many players are committing to Kaká, it completely opens up room for Kevin Molino, and partly because he still finds ways to pass out of double- and triple-teams to an open man.
It's the same as with guys like Giovinco or Lee Nguyen, in that you can enter with a plan but he'll often do something to mess that plan up. His least effective game was his 45 minutes in Dallas but he was playing hurt, so it's difficult to know if Dallas was taking him out of the match or if it was his calf muscle.
SaH: Why has the OCSC defense been porous? Does that mean Seattle should score?
tML: There are a couple times a game where someone either doesn't communicate, gets caught out of position, or ball watches, and those chances created seem to be finding their way into the net nearly every time. Many of the problems have been on set pieces, where the Lions have been one of the league's worst on defense this season. I don't know if Seattle excels at set pieces, but it's certainly a place where Orlando City has been vulnerable. The team has been bad in the air at times and defenders have been confused or caught by picks. Teams like the Red Bulls seem likely to score any time they got a free kick against Orlando.
The Lions were pretty strong against New England defensively in the run of play last week for the most part, but again the set pieces seemed to be nervy moments. If Orlando City is going to make a playoff run and cut down on the goals against, the Lions will need to cut down on the mental lapses and get better on set pieces.
We know Cristian Higuita is out due to yellow card accumulation and with Darwin Ceren being traded to the San Jose Earthquakes earlier this week, it makes it pretty simple to figure out the central midfield. I think we'll see something like this:
Joe Bendik; Luke Boden, Seb Hines, David Mateos, Kevin Alston; Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco; Kevin Molino, Kaká, Brek Shea (or Hadji Barry); Cyle Larin.
Rafael Ramos (hamstring), Tommy Redding (hamstring), Harrison Heath (knee), and Pedro Ribeiro (back) are likely all out.
tML: It's been a while since Orlando City and Seattle last met. Who are the Sounders' key additions and subtractions since we last met that we should know about and how have they affected the team and approach so far in 2016
SaH: There's been a massive amount of change. Obafemi Martins is gone. So is Sigi Schmid, Lamar Neagle, Chad Barrett, Marco Pappa, Azira, Pineda and winning. The key additions were Jordan Morris, Joevin Jones and within the last week Interim Head Coach Brian Schmetz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Alvaro Fernandez.
The year started with high expectations even with the absence of Oba. That shifted in the past month and now there are no expectations beyond figuring out how to get Clint, Nico and Jordan to be a solid MLS attack. If those three can work well together the Sounders should start scoring again. This stretch run could result in a miracle playoff appearance, but it is much more likely to be focused on figuring out who can power a return to Sounders soccer in 2017.
tML: One of your new arrivals is Nicolas Lodeiro, a new DP midfielder. Word is that he made the team look completely different against the Galaxy. How did he do that and what can we expect from the Uruguayan?
SaH: Landing in Seattle on Tuesday and being introduced at a press conference on Wednesday (after which he did some touristy stuff) meant that Nico had just two practices to integrate with a new team. He never played on an artificial surface in his life. Despite those circumstances he had 124 (or 123, 126 depending on source) touches, good for third highest in MLS this season. He slipped out three key passes with four shots of his own. Lodeiro was six of ten for long balls as well. He made the MLS Team of the Week.
Again, he joined in poor circumstances to have an immediate impact and did so anyway.
The 27-year-old playmaker is Uruguay's number 10 and the key creator for Boca Juniors. Think about what GBS was when he joined MLS, and then make him seven years younger.
There are huge expectations for Lodeiro, but the initial game is an indication that he should be able to live up to those. Seattle's had a couple creative #10s before, but the two best were older (Ljungberg and Rosales). Now they have one to build a team identity around. It is probably too late for 2016, but Nico will be here until 2019. It should be a fun ride.
tML: What has been the fallout from the Sigi Schmid firing (sorry, "mutual parting of ways") in Sounder land and as a result of the coaching change, what kind of tactics and formation should we expect from Seattle this weekend?
SaH: The formation is only slightly changing. What is more significant is how Schmetzer communicates with the players and what he expects during games. Things are a bit more holistic and player driven now. Schmetz wants the players on the field to figure out when and how to press for example. He also hopes that bench players will go on the field with an understanding of how the XI behaved to that point and their fit into that behavior. It's more of how special ops works versus how the army works, to use an analogy that maybe only I know.
Can you please give us your key injuries/suspensions, projected starting XI and score prediction?
Projected lineup: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Brad Evans, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris
Erik Friberg has a minor ankle injury, but should be in the 18
Roman Torres is nearly back from his ACL injury, but will not travel
I predicted a 2-1 Lions win on the PawedCast.