To preview tomorrow's game against Orlando City SC, we talked to Michael Citro of The Mane Lane, SB Nation's Orlando City blog.
Questions for The Mane Lane
B&RU: How have the fans reacted to the realities of MLS? Are they still in the honeymoon phase?
TML: I’m pretty sure we’re still in the honeymoon phase and part of that is because the team has found some early success (and points) despite not having its presumptive starting XI on the field yet this season. The fans knew the club wouldn’t dominate as it has in USL, but the pleasant surprise has been a knack for possessing the ball and controlling most of the play so far. The team has a long way to go, but fans are optimistic it can make the playoffs.
B&RU: How do you think the rest of the league has reacted to Orlando City? Do you all care?
TML: From what we’ve seen, the team has been pretty well received. There were lots of early overtures from fans of other teams that said they’d be watching Orlando City and/or making the Lions their "backup team." Then, after the first game, it seemed as if everyone jumped off the bandwagon and labeled the club as a bunch of divers because there were three yellow cards issued for simulation/embellishment. At least one of those was a crap call, but that reputation is not something we were happy about (and there hasn’t been a single one since). That said, we don’t much care what anyone else thinks as long as the team is doing well.
B&RU: Is Adrian Heath's style of play the same as the USL Lions? What can we expect to see on the field tactically?
TML: Yes, Heath continues to deploy his 4-2-3-1 attacking style, which stresses possession and link-up play around the box to generate chances. This hasn’t changed. But it seems as if he’s emphasized that when one fullback gets forward, the other should lag back a bit. In USL play, you’d often see long spells of possession with both fullbacks in advanced positions. This is a reality of playing against quicker, more athletic, and smarter players in MLS. He did change shape and tactics at Montreal, due to 12 players being out either injured or on international duty. Instead, the club played a 5-2-2-1 that at times became a flat 3-4-3. That trend could continue this Friday if traveling international players say they can’t go on Friday.
B&RU: Can you please give back Lewis Neal? We miss him so.
TML: No, sorry. He was ours first.
B&RU: Starting XI and score prediction?
TML: I’m not sure who will be available from international duty, as we’ve got guys coming back by Wednesday who could conceivably play but may not be at their best after traveling home from Los Angeles or Europe. I believe Kevin Molino will be available. If Brek Shea, Darwin Ceren and Rafael Ramos are available, they’ll start, but I think it more likely they’ll be on the bench. And a lot will depend on who returns from injury, including Neal (neck), Carlos Rivas (hamstring), Cristian Higuita (groin) and Tony Cascio (back). I’ll go with:
Donovan Ricketts; Luke Boden, Sean St. Ledger, Aurelien Collin, Seb Hines; Eric Avila, Amobi Okugo; Pedro Ribeiro, Kaká, Kevin Molino; Bryan Rochez.
Bench will be Earl Edwards Jr.; Brek Shea, Rafael Ramos; Darwin Ceren, Lewis Neal; Danny Mwanga, Cyle Larin
Score prediction: 2-1 to D.C. United. It’s a lot to ask of a depleted expansion club to beat the defending conference champions.
Questions for Black and Red United
TML: Who are three DC United players (expected to play this weekend) that Orlando City fans should know about?
B&RU: Bill Hamid is always the first one, and with good reason. He has gone from the team's first ever homegrown signing to MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and a USMNT player, and with good reason. He is big and athletic, which can't be taught, but his positioning and distribution have improved by leaps and bounds over the past two years.
Moving up the spine of the team, Bobby Boswell is the team's captain in his second stint with D.C. United, and he brought a calmness to the back line that didn't exist in 2013. His partnership with Steve Birnbaum made them one of the best defenses in the league last year, and Kofi Opare was able to step in seamlessly last week when Birnbaum got injured.
Finally, Davy Arnaud's move to the center of midfield last season sparked the team, and he has played a key role in every game this year so far. His pass freed Nick DeLeon to beat Robbie Rogers and get the ball for Chris Pontius to head home.
TML: What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
B&RU: Ben Olsen's teams have played a narrow 4-4-2 since last season, with both Nick DeLeon and Chris Rolfe cutting inside from their wing positions. On the attacking side, this means that they try and work the ball through the middle, and rely on Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin to provide width; on the defensive side, that means they try and keep the opposing attackers wide and invite crosses for Boswell and Opare to head away or for Hamid to gobble up. Olsen also likes for them to be aggressive and tough, with Boswell, Arnaud, and Perry Kitchen all fitting that bill.
TML: What have you learned about United through the first few MLS games this season?
B&RU: The thing that I have learned about the team so far this season has been its ability to grind out results without its best players. The top three goal scorers from last year, Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva, and Eddie Johnson, have yet to play a minute between them. In a typical year, D.C. United will start slow before finally clicking in April; this year, they already have six points from three games.
TML: What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team at this point?
B&RU: The strength of this team is always in its goalkeeping, as long as Bill Hamid is on the team. He gives the team chances to win games that it never otherwise would, and supports the normally-solid defense when they have off games. Their weakness right now is goal scoring, but that's what happens when your top scorer is suspended and the next two are injured. Luis Silva, however, will hopefully make the bench for the first time this season.
TML: What are the fans' expectations for the club, both realistic and unrealistic?
B&RU: I mean, deep down many D.C. United fans expect to win MLS Cup every year; its what happens when your team wins three of the first four. A more realistic expectation, though, is to get a top three spot in the Eastern Conference, and challenging for the top of the East; that should be well within the team's grasp.
TML: What do you expect the starting XI to look like on Friday and what is your score prediction?
B&RU: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Jairo Arrieta, Chris Pontius.
2-1, D.C. United.