Last week the Houston Dynamo earned 3 points beating Columbus Crew SC 1-0 in the season opener following an incredible display of goalkeeping and a man of the match performance by Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric. Today they'll look to build a winning streak against another Eastern Conference opponent, expansion club Orlando City SC.
In our preview of the match we outlined the different starts each club had in week one and the strengths and weaknesses of each side. We talked with Michael Citro of the Mane Land to get their perspective on the club's inaugural year, the last time these clubs met, and what to expect in the 2nd match of the year.
Dynamo Theory: It's never easy for an expansion team in any league to come out and immediately compete for the top prize. Orlando City SC might have more going for it than people realize and made a few big splashes in the offseason. How is this team built to compete? And is that design still a work in progress?
The Mane Land: Head Coach Adrian Heath and General Manager Paul McDonough started with the spine of the team, signing Brazilian superstar Kaká first and then quickly moving to solidify the middle with defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo, center back Aurelien Collin and goalkeeper Tally Hall. They kept the best and brightest young players from the USL squad and added young, highly gifted players from South and Central America in the persons of Carlos Rivas, Cristian Higuita and Bryan Rochez.
They put together a mix of veterans and youth and a little star power in Brek Shea. Their hope is that this team can come together as one in time to make a run for a playoff spot. They're only six weeks in, so it's still a work in progress. The one major problem area they had was failing to sign a veteran stalwart defender to put next to Collin in central defense. Heath Pearce rejected his offer and went overseas and Brazilian veteran Paulo Andre was offered more money at the last minute to return home and play for Corinthians. Instead, they added Sean St. Ledger and Seb Hines out of Britain in hopes that one of the two will take the spot.
DT: The last time these clubs met was in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston and things didn't quite go as planned for OCSC as the Dynamo were able to best a short sided Orlando side 3-0. What's changed since then?
ML: Rivas got healthy, for one thing. In the opener, Heath deployed Rivas as a striker for the first time, in place of Bryan Rochez. The Colombian obviously still has to work out his timing with his teammates after missing most of the preseason, but he certainly looked dangerous and he threatened New York City FC's back line on multiple occasions. He finished with five shots and drew four fouls, but Rivas was offside five times as well. If he can clean that up and get his timing right, he could be a very dangerous weapon for Orlando City. The other change was that Seb Hines played center back instead of St. Ledger. Hines played pretty well and was able to get to a lot of aerial balls against NYCFC.
DT: Aurelian Collin is somewhat of a villain to the Dynamo faithful due to our physical matches with Sporting Kansas City that often involved Collin involved in a confrontation. Collin received a straight red card in our preseason match and he received one last week against NYCFC. While Dynamo fans love to antagonize Collin, he is more than just a good defender. How is this going to affect OCSC's plan and who is in line to replace Collin?
ML: The likelihood is you'll see a central defense pairing of Hines and St. Ledger, which I'm pretty sure has not played together at all in the preseason. St. Ledger is an Irish international isn't physically imposing like Collin but he directs traffic well and is typically positionally sound.
Behind those two, the Lions are very young and it'll probably be Generation Adidas pick Conor Donovan on the bench for depth and it will be interesting to see if Heath goes to Donovan, who played a lot in preseason, or moves Okugo to the back line if either Hines or St. Ledger come off. Central defense will be a concern against the talented Houston attacking players.
DT: Being relatively unfamiliar with the history of Orlando City SC, what kind of rivalries do you have with MLS clubs, if any, are those being established this year, or are you waiting for Atlanta to join MLS for a geographic rivalry?
ML: The obvious one is fellow expansion club New York City FC. Some of their fans scoff at that notion, but the teams have played twice to 1-1 draws already and Sunday's game got pretty chippy at times. Aside from that, there's a history with Sporting KC, which once supplied talent to Orlando City as a USL side, which makes for an interesting dynamic. Atlanta may or may not become a rival - those things typically happen organically - but for now, I'd say NYCFC is the team our fans love to hate here in the early going.
DT: The Eastern Conference has lost two huge competitors in Houston and Kansas City to the Western Conference, but has gained OCSC and New York City FC and teams may be more competitive than ever in the conference. How far do you think Orlando can go in its inaugural year?
ML: With expanded playoffs, I think fans would be disappointed with anything less than a playoff appearance. It's a big ask for an MLS expansion club, as we've seen over the years, but this team has always placed a high value on winning trophies and being as competitive as possible and the fans are used to that. And given the talent that the front office has brought in, it's not an unreasonable ask.
Kaká and Brek Shea are proven talents. Okugo might be the best available player not currently in the USMNT picture. Hall still hasn't recovered fully from the ACL injury but he's one of the league's top keepers. If Heath can get this team playing as a unit, it should be better than a typical expansion team. A deep run in the playoffs seems pretty farfetched, but once you get into the postseason, anything can happen, so the team's goal is just to get there and see what happens.
For Friday I'd expect this from Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation:
GK - Donovan Ricketts
D - Brek Shea, Sean St. Ledger, Seb Hines, Rafael Ramos
DM - Amobi Okugo, Cristian Higuita
AM - Lewis Neal, Kaká, Kevin Molino
F - Carlos Rivas
If there's a deviation, it will probably be Rivas taking Neal's spot at left attacking mid and Bryan Rochez playing up top at striker.
For my answers to Michael's questions head on over to The Mane Land and check them out!