HTiOT: Orlando City's introduction to MLS hasn't been a joyride, despite the team playing some pretty decent football in stretches. What about the league has surprised you?
ML: I think what's surprised me most is the club's ability to dominate games in terms of possession and control and yet still have such difficulty finishing chances. Turns out, scoring goals at this level is really hard! After four years of dominant play in the USL (even though only a few of our USL holdovers are playing regularly), we're used to all that possession and those chances paying off. The goalkeeping at this level is ridiculously good and the margin for error is small.
Most of Orlando City's problems this year have been caused by one or two mistakes ending up in their net and not being able to capitalize on their own opportunities. Part of that is a young strike force and part is a constantly rotating lineup due to a ton of early season injuries and a steady stream of international call-ups. If Adrian Heath could keep his guys healthy and in town for a month, this could be a very dangerous team. But hey, that's part of MLS life and the team will need to churn the bottom of the roster to provide the necessary depth to withstand that stuff.
HT: Brek Shea's play up and down the left side has been a tactical staple for OC in the young season, giving defenses a reason to do something other than cluster around Kaka. Now Shea's with the USA - who will play there? And will a tactical shift necessarily follow?
ML: Last week we saw young Designated Player Carlos Rivas get his first look at left wing and it did not go well. Rivas was dynamic at getting into space and creating chances, but his finishing was well off the mark and he provided no cover for left back Luke Boden to get forward. Rivas has a knack for opening space for his teammates, but he has little experience, so he'll need to learn how to make the most of that space.
As for a shift, I'm as interested as anyone to see what Adrian Heath does with his lineup this week. He may give Rivas another look. He could insert Pedro Ribeiro, who was rounding into outstanding form before tearing his hamstring in early April. Ribeiro returned to the lineup Saturday, came on late as a sub and was instantly dangerous. He probably knows how to work with Kaká better than anyone else on the team. Veteran Lewis Neal has also recently returned from injury and could be an option on the left side of the attacking midfield.
HT: It's the silly season. What's the outlook for Orlando City in this window? Do they have cap space to bring in someone? Has Kaka phoned any friends to come finish for him?
ML: Heath and GM Paul McDonough tried to bring in reinforcements before the last window closed but things just didn't work out. They have both said that the club will be active in trying to add more depth when the next window opens. Heath said he'd like to add another striker, defender and midfielder. I think they'll be fine with regard to cap space because some bodies will probably get loaned out to Louisville City FC in the USL, or potentially moved on. Heath has had a couple of months to see what his team needs and will go shopping when the window opens. We hope Kaká has made a few calls.
On the predicted lineup: I think Adrian Heath will send Rivas back to the bench and play a more cautious game on the road. I also think we'll see Aurelien Collin return to the back line after returning from a hamstring strain. He almost has to work Ribeiro back into the lineup, but I think he'll also stick with Cyle Larin up top.
Predicted lineup (4-2-3-1): Tally Hall; Luke Boden, Aurelien Collin, Sean St. Ledger, Rafael Ramos; Darwin Ceren, Cristian Higuita; Lewis Neal, Kaká, Pedro Ribeiro; Cyle Larin
Score prediction: 2-2