Rest breaks for a professional soccer team can be both a blessing and a curse. If the club is on a losing streak it is a chance to reset and recharge. But for clubs on a winning streak it can cripple the positive energy around a side. After two weeks off D.C. United will be back in action on Saturday night at RFK Stadium against Orlando City SC (7pm EST, MLS Live). The question is now can they recapture that same lightning that saw them win their last three matches and bring their once dead season back alive?
In their first match on the season Orlando put two past a beleaguered D.C. defense earning the three points at home at Camping World Stadium. United have much fared better against their Eastern Conference foes in the friendly confines of RFK Stadium. In three matches all-time at home against Orlando United are undefeated.
That bodes very well for D.C. (8-15-4, 28 points) whose playoff hopes are still very much tenuous. Despite having won their last three matches United are eight points behind Atlanta United FC for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East. Orlando are only five points back (8-12-7, 31 points). However, they have won just once in their last ten matches (1-7-2, 5 points).
Orlando City SC Coach Jason Kreis’ side have had a bit of a fall from grace since a very positive early run of form where they won four of their first five matches. Injuries and personnel issues have limited Kreis in his first full season with the Purple Lions.
Goalkeeper Josh Saunders (neck), midfielder Richie Laryea (hamstring), and defender Jonathan Spector (knee) will all be out for Saturday’s match due to various injuries. Midfielder Jose Aja will also be out due to yellow card accumulation. Furthermore, the club also announced that midfielder Wil Johnson will also be out indefinitely after having been arrested Wednesday and charged with misdemeanor battery in connection with an alleged domestic incident.
United meanwhile should have about as close to a full roster as they have had all season. Both Paul Arriola and Zoltan Stieber will be back from international with the United States and Hungary. As for injuries defenders Taylor Kemp (hip) and Steve Birnbaum (concussion) are still listed being out as is midfielder Patrick Nyarko (concussion) and forward Bruno Miranda (thigh).
If D.C. are to walk away with three points from this match they are going to need to contain forward Cyle Larin. Larin leads Orlando in goals with 10 and has been one of their few consistent attacking pieces all season. He has also done quite a number on United through the years. United coach Ben Olsen has come to rely on Jalen Robinson and Kofi Opare in recent weeks at center-back and it has paid off. Robinson, in particular, has had a standout second half of the season taking on some of the league’s best strikers and preventing them from creating attacking chances. Look for him to play a big role against Larin on Saturday.
Of course when talking about Orlando one also has to mention Kaka. The Brazilian international can still light up a defense with a deft pass from the midfield or a simple misdirection. He doesn’t have the pace that he once did so it will be interesting to see how he copes with the persistent tracking of Russell Canouse. If Canouse can limit Kaka’s influence on the match Orlando’s diamond formation will be thrown out of rhythm which could play into D.C.’s hands.
But D.C. will also need to create their own attacking chances. After relying on the mistakes of others for parts one and two of their three game winning they finally broke through themselves against the New England Revolution. What seems to have changed for over the last few weeks is the midfield player. With Stieber and Arriola handling a lot of the dirty work, Luciano Acosta can focus primarily at breaking down defenses and creating attacking chances. Acosta and Stieber in particular worked quite well with one in terms of finding one another with open space. If they can break down a porous Orlando defense (43 goals allowed).
With both sides on the outside looking in at the MLS Cup Playoffs this match very much has the feeling of an elimination match. With D.C. riding high on three consecutive wins and Orlando struggling to find their form, one might think that United have the advantage. But Orlando do have enough attacking pieces to put up a fight and as D.C. have shown in recent weeks it only takes one or two moments to pull off an upset.