After playing in Portland in Thursday, Orlando City faces another whirlwind turnaround with a home game against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
“No rest for the wicked, huh?” coach James O’Connor joked after Thursday night’s game in Portland. After the team showered and changed at the stadium, it headed immediately to the airport, taking an overnight flight to arrive in Orlando in time for an afternoon training session. The turnaround gave Orlando City less than two days at home to recover and prepare.
It wasn’t the first time that the Lions faced a similar schedule this season. The team played in Seattle on a Wednesday in May, then returned home to face a Cincinnati team the ensuing Sunday, picking up a 5-1 blowout win in the second match.
This week’s matches gives Orlando City even less time for preparation. The coast-to-coast travel always provides a challenge for the team both physically and mentally. The Lions left star forward Nani and starting defenders Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson at home for the Portland trip and roster rotation will remain key for the team heading into Sunday’s match.
“It’s definitely hard, but we feel pretty prepared for this,” Orlando City defender Kamal Miller said. “In preseason, we pushed our limits, so we’re fit and we feel like we can go. Even if we put out a whole different lineup, we can go out and get the job done.”
Sunday will mark the second time Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls have met this season, with the first match at the start of the season in March. The Lions picked up a road win over the Red Bulls, earning a 1-0 victory thanks to a late-game goal from Sacha Kljestan.
The Red Bulls sit at the No. 4 slot in the Eastern Conference, but the team has suffered a recent skid, winning only two of its past seven games. The Red Bulls’ defense has been particularly porous in recent weeks, allowing 19 goals during that same stretch of games.
For the Orlando defense, the main challenge of the game will be managing the aggressive physicality of the Red Bulls offense. New York emphasizes a press, pushing high up the field to force mistakes and turnovers and then capitalize in transition.
“New York is a team that really likes to get in the face of their opposition and bully their opponent before they get the ball down in play,” Miller said. “Matching their physicality and their intensity will be the main task at hand.”
The Lions will field an almost fully healthy roster on Sunday, with only three players on the bench with injuries. Midfielder Cristian Higuita continues to recover from a long-term hamstring injury, while defender Alex De John will join Shane O’Neill under concussion protocol after taking a hard blow to the head in Thursday’s game.
Forward Dom Dwyer will also remain unavailable for Sunday’s game after the MLS Disciplinary Committee added an additional game to the red card suspension following a match last week against the Columbus Crew. Dwyer earned the red card for throwing an elbow at Columbus defender Josh Williams, who was hit in the head and entered concussion protocol. Dwyer also was fined an undisclosed amount for failure to leave the pitch in a timely manner after the red card.
Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30
Where: Exploria Stadium
The Buzz: Orlando City earned a point on the road in Portland, posting a 1-1 draw with the Timbers. … Rookie Santiago Patiño rocketed home the team’s only goal in the 44th minute. … Forward Robinho saw his first start with the Lions in Portland less than a week after his trade from Columbus was announced. … The Red Bulls fell 3-1 on the road in Toronto on Wednesday. … After ceding a goal in the first 10 minutes and a penalty kick, Tom Barlow scored to bring New York back within a goal, but Toronto responded immediately to secure the win. … Lions striker Dom Dwyer has been suspended for the match after his elbow hit Columbus defender Josh Williams in the head. … Orlando City is led by star designated player Nani, who paces the team in goals (8) and assists (7). … New York is led by midfielder Daniel Royer in both goals (7) and assists (6).