Hot Time In Old Town: Orlando has had one of the more surprising turnarounds, going from basically last place last season to a solid playoff contender. What player has had the biggest impact on the team’s success?
The Mane Land: Mauricio Pereyra has been hugely important this year. While he was brought in during the middle of last season and showed flashes of what he’s capable of, having more time to settle into MLS has made all the difference in his play. He and Nani are the best passers on the team, and he has very good vision while also being adept with the ball at his feet and difficult to dispossess. He’s also been helped by the possession-based style that the team prefers to play and by also having the right players performing at high levels around him. His emergence has helped take the burden of creative duties from Nani’s shoulders, and that as much as anything has helped the team immensely.
HTIOT: After the Fire fired Veljko Paunovic, I wanted them to hire Oscar Pareja. How important has he been to the team’s turnaround and what does he bring that the club has been missing?
TML: For my money Pareja is the key to all of this. Yes, the players are the one who have to execute on the field, but aside from Pedro Gallese, Antonio Carlos, and Junior Urso, every player who is a regular starter was in the team this time last year. He’s been able to identify the best type of style to play given the pieces he has at his disposal, and he’s clearly been able to impart that style to the players very quickly. The team just looks like its playing with a concentrated idea and philosophy, they know what they want to do when they take the field and that isn’t something that we’ve seen a whole lot of from this club in the past.
HTIOT:. Do you think this run of form and success can continue? Or do you think this will fizzle out and Orlando will regress to the mean?
TML: Currently, the Lions are unbeaten in their last five games, and aside from two back to back losses in the MLS is Back final and the first game of the restarted regular season, haven’t lost since March. I don’t necessarily things will stay quite at the level we’ve seen lately, but I think sitting anywhere from 3rd-5th in the East is about right for this team. Options off the bench remain a bit thin in some places, and if untimely injuries start happening then watch it. But in general, I think Orlando will continue to play well even if the team doesn’t stay absolutely red hot.
HTIOT: What should we know for Saturday’s game? Who’s going to play? Who’s out? What will the final score be?
TML: Joao Moutinho will miss the game as he recovers from a groin injury, and Dom Dwyer had season-ending surgery on his knee, but as far as I know those are the only two who will be unavailable. Not having Moutinho hurts, he’s been excellent this year. I would expect a lineup of the following: Pedro Gallese; Kyle Smith, Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, Ruan; Junior Urso, Uri Rosell: Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, Chris Mueller; Daryl Dike
As for a final score I’ll say 2-1 Orlando