We completed the exchange of questions from sources behind the Purple Wall via encrypted, double-blind ... well, hell, it was email. Michael Citro of The Mane Land answered our inquiries, as well as asking a few questions which I answered here.
Interestingly, their half posted yesterday, and apparently I came off as inordinately confident in my answers:
Hot Time: After a scorching start, O-City's slowed down a lot in the last few weeks; that this happened as Cyle Larin's goals dried up is no surprise. This was supposed to be the season that Carlos Rivas balanced the Canadian's output - what's going wrong with the Orlando attack recently?
The Mane Land: It’s been a combination of things, really. The service in to Larin has been less consistent in recent weeks, for starters. Rivas has been stagnant at times, particularly on the road, and Will Johnson’s set piece delivery hasn’t been as sharp as it was earlier in the season, although it was picture perfect on the first goal Wednesday. Second, Larin himself hasn’t been as sharp at times. He could easily have had a brace at Toronto and missed two balls he’d normally put into the net. He cracked a penalty off the right post against New York City FC that could have pulled the Lions back into contention two weeks ago. At times he forgets to use his size and strength and sometimes when he remembers, the referees have allowed the defenders to be more physical than the Canadian striker. He was wearing Steve Birnbaum like a coat on Wednesday night so it’s lucky he scored or that might not even have been called.
Finally, it can’t be understated that this has been the most brutal stretch of matches on the schedule for Orlando City, and there’s not really a replacement for Larin on the roster, so he’s played through all of it. Sunday will be the team’s eighth game in 33 days, which includes trips to Toronto, Houston, San Jose, and Minnesota. This is the third stretch of three games in eight or nine days in rapid succession. That’s a lot of wear and tear on the team, particularly Larin and right back Scott Sutter, who is himself a vital part of the attack.
HT: The Fire and the Lions share a tendency to have great success at home and much less on the road. How does Orlando's approach differ at home and on the road?
TML: I think if you asked Jason Kreis he’d say the approach doesn’t change much. Most of the Lions’ road games have come in this last month of rapid-fire fixtures and three of those were against Western Conference teams. Because of that, the club hasn’t always put out its first-choice lineup to start those road matches and it may just come down to that, in addition to not having players who are as sharp due to travel. The team played well enough to win three of those road games, but you’ve got Larin’s two misses at Toronto (near his hometown of Brampton, so he could have been pressing a bit), a late equalizer by Wondo, and just a complete lack of finishing despite 20 shots at Minnesota in a 1-0 game in which the Lions out-shot the Loons, 20-5.
Now, if you ask me, I think the club has also come out a bit conservatively at times on the road, and that could owe to getting blitzkrieged at Houston with the pacy Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto having a field day. I think that game was an aberration but it may have had the lingering effect of making the Lions more cautious away from home.
HT: Scenario: A prominent international football star, vacationing in Orlando, spends a night Ricky Kaka that unexpectedly ends in fervent prayer. In the press the next day, prominent international football star announces that not only is he completely down with Jesus now, but also that he wishes to continue his career in the purple of Orlando City SC to be closer to his spiritual mentor. NOW THE QUESTION: Leaving aside past Ballon d'Or winners (because Messi or Ronaldo? too obvi), which prominent international football star would do the most to make Orlando City a better team?
TML: I love this question but there are so many answers. There’s Neymar, for starters, who Kaká said was his favorite young player. He’s exactly the kind of player who would work well up top with Larin and yet score a boatload of his own goals as well, which is not something we’re seeing from Rivas. Second, I’ll say Zlatan because I love Zlatan and the swagger he’d bring to Orlando would be off the charts. Chicharito is beloved by many and Orlando fans got their hopes up for him in 2015. He’d be a great finisher in this league.
But the guy who might do the most to make Orlando City a better team is someone who could both score boatloads of goals and make the midfield attack more potent with creativity. Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid and Christian Pulisic are the two guys who come to mind here. With either one, the Lions would be providing way more quality service in to Larin and also pulling defenders away from the big Canadian. And if those defenders stayed on Larin, either Pulisic or Griezmann would make them pay by filling up the net. The Frenchman could play either attacking mid or up top with Larin. Now, after imagining all of that, I need to go lie down.
HT: So tell us about injuries, suspensions, and the likely starters.
TML: Kaká has been bothered by a calf injury. He returned to training on Thursday but it’s uncertain whether Kreis will fully unleash him or be more cautious. I suspect the latter so I’m going to predict he’ll make the 18 but not start. Center back Tommy Redding is with the U.S. U-20 World Cup team.
I think we might see a defensive-minded flat 4-4-2 to start against Chicago: Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Scott Sutter; Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Matias Perez Garcia; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin. Alternately, I could see Giles Barnes playing on the left side of midfield to try to build on his excellent substitute appearance on Wednesday, or even Luis Gil in that spot.