Normally these pieces take into account observations made over the course of a whole season, with the most recent game carrying a lot of weight. However, Orlando City's last match was bizarre from a lineup perspective. It's not that Adrian Heath temporarily went nuts; it's that he was missing nearly half of his roster due to international call-ups and injuries.
As such, the Lions traveled to Montreal with just 15 (not a typo) players instead of the 18 MLS allows. The three substitutes were a rookie backup goalkeeper and three teenagers. For our purposes, the most important oddity was the formation switch: Heath prefers to use a 4231, but last week Orlando used what they called a 343. For most of the game, it really functioned as a 541, but in either case it's an extremely rare look for an MLS club.
It showed that Heath is a confident and inventive coach, as most MLS bosses would keep their normal formation and just ask one or two guys to play out of position. Heath tried to keep his players in positions they're capable of playing, and it worked out: The Lions came home with a 2-2 draw after falling behind 2-0 in the first 27 minutes.
Nonetheless, all signs point to this being a one-off switch out of necessity. With the international friendly window over, D.C. United should expect to see Orlando go back to the 4231:
Donovan Ricketts will no doubt start in goal, even after requiring two minutes of treatment in the late-going against the Impact. No goalkeeper in MLS history has ever had the trainer come on more often than Ricketts, who is a strange combination of injury-prone, apparently hyper-sensitive to any contact, and willing to waste time. If you want to win $5 off of a friend, bet them that Ricketts will need the trainer to come on tomorrow.
The end of the international window should see Rafael Ramos and Brek Shea return as fullbacks. Ramos is the sure thing, as he came back early from the Portuguese under-20s. Tyler Turner filled in last week while Ramos was away, but there's no evidence that Ramos's role as the starter is in question. While just 20 years old and among MLS's smaller players, Ramos is very composed on the ball and looks to have a higher soccer IQ than most players his age. While I do think there's some vulnerability here - Chris Rolfe will be able to outfox him, while Chris Pontius will be able to use his size and strength beat him - it has to be said that the kid can play.
Shea is actually the more vulnerable fullback since he doesn't have much experience in the job. His ability to overlap with speed and power is going to be a challenge for United's right flank, but on the other hand he's not great at picking when to make his runs. United should focus on making him defend. If Shea needs a rest after playing twice for the USMNT and flying to and from Europe, Luke Boden will step in.
In central defense, Aurelien Collin and Seb Hines should maintain their starting roles ahead of former United trialist Sean St. Ledger. Collin is still Collin: Fast, strong, and prone to overdoing things. Hines has looked OK thus far, but I'm not sure he's the Matt Besler-style leader that Collin needs alongside him to be at his best. There may be some vulnerability here on the ground, particularly if United can draw Collin into charging forward to snuff something out.
Amobi Okugo has done well for Orlando at defensive midfield, and United is going to have to make it difficult for the Lions to find him coming out of the back. He's not necessarily a midfield metronome, but he is where most of their attacks start. Forcing a riskier pass earlier in their possessions will be disruptive. I expect El Salvador national team regular Darwin Ceren to start as the #8 here, as preferred starter Cristian Higuita is probably a couple weeks from being able to return from injury.
Kevin Molino will start on the right, and he's looked immediately comfortable playing off of Kaka. Orlando is not a team known for hitting crosses; instead, Molino is going to come inside looking to help possession and trying to create combinations to break through. He's been a bit unlucky in front of goal, but we're talking about the USL's single-season goalscoring record holder. If United can't deal with Molino, they're gonna have a bad time.
Kaka is living up to his reputation thus far and would garner serious MVP talk if the MLS season was given out this early. Interestingly, in the last two games he's spent serious time on the left; last week, he straight-up played as a left midfielder. I expect him to start in the middle here, however, particularly if Carlos Rivas is able to return to the starting lineup. If it's Eric Avila on the left - and I think that's the more likely outcome - then Kaka will sometimes swap positions with the ex Chivas USA man. Lewis Neal was starting early in the season, but is doubtful due to a neck injury. Regardless of who starts, look for some fluidity in the Orlando midfield that will have to be accounted for.
Up front, Rivas had been starting before getting hurt, and Pedro Ribeiro has done well since stepping in. The towering Brazilian looks like he relies on pure brute force to get by, but he's got good feet and was an attacking midfielder in college. Naturally his time at the Philadelphia Union was spent suffering through an ill-conceived plan to convert him into a central defender. Whatever damage the Union did looks to have been repaired already, and Ribeiro's midfielder mindset means he's more than comfortable holding play up and laying the ball off for Kaka or Molino. Despite his size, Orlando will play to his feet much more often than through the air.
If Rivas starts, United will be facing a different threat. The young Colombian is very fast, and Orlando could use that speed to force United's back four to drop off. That would open up space for the attacking midfield, though I personally think Rivas looks more like a winger. In either case, Rivas sounds like a pretty iffy starter for this week. The Black-and-Red will probably see him at some point, but I get the feeling he'll be coming in off the bench.