With five players called up to their national teams, Orlando City will field a different look against LAFC this weekend.
The team will be without forward Tesho Akindele, who is tied with Nani for team’s lead in scoring with nine goals. However, the position group with the biggest loss will be the midfield, which will face LAFC without Will Johnson, Carlos Ascues and Sebás Mendez.
“It’s something we’ve had to navigate all season,” midfielder Dillon Powers said. “We’re used to it and we understand that a lot of our strengths come from our ability to field the team regardless of who’s out there.”
With a notably quick pace of play, LAFC dominates opponents in on-ball possession, often eating up more than 60% of possession. The Orlando City midfield will be one of the keys to disrupting this style of play, both in breaking up LAFC’s possession of the ball and controlling the Lions’ rhythm of play.
Without Johnson and Ascues — who excel in tracking back on defense and establishing passing through the midfield — the game will provide an opportunity for other players to earn meaningful playing time.
“There are a lot of guys who don’t have as many minutes as they like who have been training well,” Uri Rosell said. “Saturday is going to be an opportunity for them to show up. Hopefully everybody will be set and ready to take that chance.”
Orlando City also has to play without Mauricio Pereyra, who continues to recover from a leg injury. The midfielder picked up a knock during his debut against Minnesota United and aggravated it in the team’s 1-0 loss to Atlanta. Although he played through the pain, he noted after the game he felt he lost some of his speed and aggression due to the injury.
Pereyra trained with Orlando City throughout last week and was not considered enough of a concern to make the team’s injury list before heading to San Jose. However, O’Connor made a last minute decision to keep him home and has labeled the midfielder as questionable for the LAFC match.
“It’s been very unfortunate and we’re disappointed in it, but that’s football,” O’Connor said. “He’s doubtful for Saturday. We’re hopeful, but we just have to manage it.”
Despite its own lineup changes, this weekend could serve as the best opportunity for Orlando City to take on LAFC. The Los Angeles side will be missing six of its own players, including three MLS All-Stars — defender Walker Zimmerman and midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta.
Additionally, MLS leading goal scorer Carlos Vela sat out last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Minnesota with a hamstring injury and could remain questionable for the Orlando match.
LAFC is noted for its depth and ability to rotate, but the loss of several of its team leaders in goals and assists will be a factor for the visiting team.