After a roller-coaster ride of a season in 2015, which saw the Lions miss the playoffs in their inaugural year in Major League Soccer, Orlando City is back with the hope of seeing postseason play in 2016.
Orlando City will host Real Salt Lake on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
With the game in the early afternoon, it gives Orlando the advantage over a Salt Lake team that played mid-week CONCACAF Champions League action in Mexico with few days of rest.
“Physically…we’ve been ready for about a week,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told reporters on Friday. “We know this weekend is going to be difficult, but it is what it is. They’ve probably had more games of which were more match-day situation. The one thing about preseason games, you can never replicate what’s going to happen.”
Former AC Milan player Antonio Nocerino, who was announced as Orlando City’s newest player, will not play on Sunday after arriving to Orlando from Italy on Friday. Tommy Redding, 19, will start at center back instead of veteran defender Aurélien Collin, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Saturday.
With that said, here are some talking points ahead of Sunday’s game.
Battling red-card crisis
The Lions finished 2015 with 10 red cards, and that arguably played a grueling factor in them missing the playoffs.
To put that into perspective, each time Orlando City lost a man due to an ejection, the Lions never won. Heath’s men currently have an 0-7-3 record after losing a player to a red card.
Orlando City has since moved on from those days, as a plethora of the team’s young core have matured since then.
For Orlando soccer fans: Are there any players on the team you think could still see reds frequently in 2016?
Projected starting XI
With Kevin Molino back in the fray, Heath could now employ a potentially lethal trio in the league, which includes the Trinidad & Tobago international along with Ricardo Kaká and Cyle Larin.
Heath has said during preseason Orlando City could opt out of its traditional 4-2-3-1 formation and adopt a 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 that will allow Kaká to play more up the field behind Larin.
Cristian Higuita will not play on Sunday due to a red card the Colombian picked up in the last game of the 2015 season against the Philadelphia Union.
Without any surprise, Pedro Ribeiro will start against Salt Lake. Heath added the versatile midfielder was his favorite player in preseason, and he definitely impressed during Orlando’s final preseason game in February against Brazilian club Esporte Clube Bahia.
And, lastly, here’s the OSJ’s projected starting XI for the Lions: