SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City coach James O’Connor isn’t breathing easy before the Lions’ match against the LA Galaxy just because superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović isn’t playing.
The Lions are coming off the biggest win of the James O’Connor era and looking to string together back-to-back wins for the first time since O’Connor was hired in the middle of last season. Orlando City (4-6-3, 15 points) hosts the Galaxy (7-5-1, 22 points) at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Ibrahimović is serving the second match of a two-match suspension for an altercation with NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Ibrahimović has scored 31 goals in league play since joining the Galaxy last season and is second in the league with nine goals in 10 matches this season.
The Swedish superstar netted a hat trick when Orlando City faced the Galaxy last season in California. The Lions lost that match 4-3.
“They’ve got a lot of good players, do you know what I mean?” O’Connor said. “It would be disrespectful to the other players to say, ‘Oh, it’s just Ibrahimović.’ They’ve got some really good players. So, for us, it’s being intentional about understanding that they do have very good players, they are very capable, they’re a strong team.”
No other player on the Galaxy has scored more than three goals.
The Galaxy are on a four-match losing streak. In the first match the team played without Ibrahimović due to his suspension, the Galaxy lost 1-0 to the previously-winless Colorado Rapids.
“But, equally, for us, it’s trying to impose our game on them and trying to create some problems for them,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s having a balance of everything. Of how they attack, how they defend, and making sure that that we do the things that we want to do. Give them, hopefully, something to be concerned about.”
Orlando City will take the pitch without its own star striker. Dom Dwyer, who broke out of his scoring slump and scored his fourth goal of the season in the Lions’ last match, will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation. Dwyer isn’t Orlando City’s top scorer, however. Forward Tesho Akindele has four goals. Chris Mueller has three.
Star designated player Nani leads the team with seven goals.
“To be honest, I didn’t do [anything] so special,” Nani said. “Obviously, I’ve been important for the team. I’ve scored a couple of goals. But I think I can do much more. Obviously, my ambition is to work every day to improve [on] what I’m not so good at in this morning.
“The league is … not just beginning, but there’s still a lot of the league to play. I’m sure the opportunity to play much better and produce more quality football will appear.”
Squad rotation could come into play for the Galaxy, too. Orlando City had three games last week, and now LA finds itself in a similar situation with a midweek game at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.
O’Connor said the Galaxy have tweaked their formation a bit as the season has gone on, too. The Galaxy have used three-centerback formations at times this season and came out in a 4-1-4-1 against the Houston Dynamo in April.
“For us, it’s just having an understanding of how they will play,” O’Connor said. “What are their principles of attack? Principles of defense? And then try to get an understanding of what they may do or may not do. There’s quite a lot that goes into it because they obviously have a game on Wednesday, as well, against [Sporting Kansas City].
“There’s a lot that you’re trying to double-guess and you can drive yourself mad trying to come up with different ideas of what they may or may not do. That’s part of it.”
MLS All-Star voting opens
Fan voting for the 2019 MLS All-Star game is open and eight Orlando City players are on the ballot. Star forward Nani, striker Dom Dwyer, forward Chris Muller, right back Ruan, goalkeeper Brian Rowe, midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Sebas Méndez and left back João Moutinho are all available for fan votes.
The MLS All-Star game will be played at Orlando City Stadium this year on July 31. La Liga side Atlético Madrid will be the opponent.
#SoccerForAll pre-match tops available
Major League’s Soccer’s Soccer For All campaign is underway, and Orlando City will don special pre-match tops for its match against the LA Galaxy. The tops feature rainbow patterns for Pride month, which begins in June.
This is the second time the league has done a Soccer for All month. The month “showcases the collective efforts taking place throughout the League to foster more inclusive communities.”
The tops are available for purchase here.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) May 23, 2019
Orlando City vs LA Galaxy
Where: Orlando City Stadium
Watch: UniMas, live stream on Twitter
The Buzz: Orlando City is looking for a second consecutive win after thrashing FC Cincinnati 5-1. … The LA Galaxy are looking to get back on track after dropping a match to the Colorado Rapids. … Both teams will be without their star strikers due to suspensions. Zlatan Ibrahomić and Dom Dwyer are both out for the match. … Centerback/defensive midfielder Carlos Ascues is questionable for the match, but he has been participating in warmups with the rest of the team during recent training sessions. … Perry Kitchen (foot) and Romain Alessandrini (knee surgery) are out for the match. … Orlando City is 2-2-0 (6 points) all-time against the LA Galaxy. … The Lions have scored at least two goals in every MLS match they’ve played against the Galaxy. … Orlando City is also unbeaten against the Galaxy in Orlando.