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Signal Intel: Lack of Larin bothers visiting Lions

Without the Canadian powerhouse to lead the line, O-City leaning on strong performances from Spector in the back

MLS: Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC
Jonathan Spector’s dogged marking allowed Orlando City to escape with a point three weeks ago when down two men.
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We perform the question-and-answer ritual with Michael Citro of The Mane Land in advance of tonight’s Eastern Conference matchup. Enjoy!

Hot Time: No Ted Unkel in the middle this time, meaning the likelihood that we play a good solid patch of 11 v 11 goes up considerably. Can we learn anything from the nil-nil snoozer these two teams played three weeks ago, or is that game just too wild an outlier to make the basis of any judgements?

The Mane Land: I don’t think you can take much from a game in which one team was completely hamstrung by shoddy officiating before either side had really settled in. I’ll be honest…I was really looking forward to the match-up and the game was ruined early before the two sides had figured out the best way to go after the other. I suppose the good news is we get to start over from scratch.

HT: Cyle Larin's recent difficulties (covered tastefully and well by y'all, hat tip to The Mane Land) - will they affect the team sheet on Saturday? If he's available, does he start, do you think? For any answer to that question, please explain the thinking underlying it - best for Larin, club, table, supporters, MLS? Finally, how does Orlando City change without Larin in the side?

TML: Based on prior investigations by the MLS Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, we don’t expect Cyle to be cleared before this weekend, but it would be a lot cooler if he was. If available, I think he’d start simply because it’ll be Orlando’s third game in eight days and Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes have logged a lot of minutes up top and there’s really no good alternative to give one/both of them a rest due to lack of depth at the striker position. Hadji Barry is a young and raw player who is somewhat similar in style and skill set to Rivas but I’m not sure Jason Kreis trusts the second-year pro to give him significant minutes right now. Kaká could potentially play up top with either Barnes or Rivas but we’ve not seen much of that.

Without Larin, there is a lot less of chucking hopeful balls into the area. The Lions have made more of an effort to attack as a team. In Larin’s 15 games six different goal scorers, the club had (Larin, Rivas, Barnes, Kaká, Servando Carrasco, and Will Johnson). In the two games since his suspension, Orlando City has four different scorers (Rivas, Matias Perez Garcia, Jonathan Spector, and Scott Sutter). Two of those were on set pieces, but it’s notable nonetheless. There are way fewer balls over the top into the area without Larin.

HT: Jonathan Spector is a guy I always try to bring to the Fire in my Football Manager saves, and here he is, in MLS in real life, bossing stuff for ... Orlando City? Damn it! Talk about what the Arlington Heights lad has meant for Lions this year, and what you expect to see from him going forward. Also, specifically in this game - his concentration in ghosting Nikolic's runs was a big part of OCSC digging out that draw last time. Can he replicate that performance? Will he need to?

TML: Spector, quite simply, has been the catalyst for change that has Orlando City above the red line. Orlando could literally afford to lose any player other than Spector without too much change in results, as we’ve seen with an early absence of Kaká this season and two results without Larin in the last two games. But the loss of the U.S. international would be pretty difficult to overcome. He’s been phenomenal, not only with his own play and sniffing out danger before it develops, but also in directing young defenders like Tommy Redding, Leo Pereira, and Jose Aja. Everyone on the back line is better because of him. I expect that’ll only improve as the season goes on and everyone becomes more familiar with each other.

As to the last part of the question, yes, Spector not only can replicate that performance, but he must if the Lions are going to take any points home from Bridgeview. Playing his third match in eight days — and second straight on the road — will make that task a whole lot tougher, though. What makes Nikolic so good, in my opinion, is that he’s one of those rare players who has a knack for drifting away from defenders so subtly and effortlessly that they don’t even realize how much space they’re giving until it’s too late. Spector is usually more aware of his surroundings than most MLS center backs. He’ll need to keep his concentration level high for the full 90+ minutes and do so when his body is exhausted. It’ll be a tall order for him.

Lineup news

Orlando City should pretty much have everyone available except Larin (suspended – SABH) Saturday unless something unforeseen happens.

I expected squad rotation at Seattle and didn’t get it, so I’m going to predict it’ll happen Saturday and we may see Kaká, Antonio Nocerino, and Scott Sutter start the game on the bench:

(4-4-2): Joe Bendik; PC, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Rafael Ramos; Luis Gil, Servando Carrasco, Will Johnson, Matias Perez Garcia; Carlos Rivas, Giles Barnes.