Preview: New York City FC at Orlando City

Jason Kreis NYCFC

Two of the most anticipated teams of the 2015 season are set to debut this Sunday in the most electrifying of settings.

A sold-out Citrus Bowl awaits Orlando City and New York City FC as both expansion sides get set to kick off their inaugural MLS campaigns.

The match will be the culmination of years of buildup for the Orlando franchise.  The biggest standout team in the then-USL Pro, the Lions come into MLS with a built in fan base and several names from their division three days carrying them into this new era — none more recognizable than coach Adrian Heath.

While the encounter plays out as a celebration of Orlando’s achievements, New York City FC will be looking to play the role of party crashers.  Head coach Jason Kreis has taken a detailed approach to the team’s roster building this offseason and has formulated a competitive side based on several MLS veterans, Real Salt Lake alumni and, of course, star international players.

How will Sunday play out?  Here is your match preview:

Projected Starting XI:

NYCFC: Saunders; Williams, Mendoza, Wingert, Brovsky; Jacobson, Grabavoy; Mix, Nemec, Calle; Villa

OCSC: Ricketts; Ramos, Colin, St. Ledger, Shea; Okugo, Higuita; Molino, Kaka, Neal; Rochez

History: This is the first MLS match for either NYCFC or Orlando. However …

Last Encounter: … They did manage a 1-1 draw in a chippy encounter during the Carolina Challenge Cup this preseason.

Battle To Watch: Kaka vs. Jacobson, Grabavoy. The Brazilian playmaker will be one to watch all season long. Much of Orlando’s success on the offensive end will rely on Kaka’s individual brilliance down the middle of the field. It will be up to a still-budding NYCFC defense to slow the creative force down. That starts with Jacobson and Grabavoy in the middle, who form a top-notch defensive midfield pairing by MLS standards.  Whether that is enough to contain Kaka remains to be seen.

X-Factor: Home Field Advantage. And not just any home field advantage! Orlando is expecting a sellout crowd of 62k fans at the Citrus Bowl for this event — an atmosphere that would make any Seattle Sounders match seem like a church picnic by comparison. Kreis will not only be battling the effects of a still-gelling expansion side — he will have to do so while under the gaze of a huge crowd as well.

Analysis:

Orlando has put together a club with a strong spine, spearheaded by Rochez, supported by Kaka, and backed by Okugo, Collin and Ricketts.  Meanwhile, NYCFC’s offense has the makings of a potent core, with David Villa, Mix Diskerud and Javier Calle leading the way.

The defensive cover, however, will be the main difference between both sides. Despite a string of positive results this offseason, NYCFC’s defense has hardly been tested. Newcomer Mendoza is the lone centerback from the NYCFC pool to manage consistent starting minutes this preseason. Chris Wingert joined him in the middle during preseason, highlighting the flux at centerback.  Luckily for NYCFC, Grabavoy and Jacobson provide reliable cover for the forming centerback duo and Williams and Brovsky bolster the fullback position as well.

Like so many other matches, the game will be won at midfield. There, NYCFC have the talent to compete but Orlando boasts a familiar core  that can put them slightly ahead. Still, watch for Mix Diskerud to open up the match from  the right hand side and Villa to press a still-budding Lions’ backline.

Neither team takes a clear advantage in the talent department. However, Orlando’s familiarity — and the 62k fans screaming for the home side — should push the Lions towards victory.

Prediction: 3-1 Orlando City


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