For Orlando City coach Jason Kreis, Saturday’s match against New York City FC in Yankee Stadium represents a chance to measure the newly-reconstructed Lions against a club that has, in his words, become the “measuring stick for opponents.”
“This is an opportunity for us to show that we’re quality,” Kreis said. “If we can go and get a result there, if we can go and get three points, I think that makes a big statement about who we are.”
Beyond the talent on the roster, the Lions will have to contend with NYCFC’s unique home venue.
Everyone knows the pitch at Yankee Stadium is small.
Crow-barred into the outfield of the historic baseball venue, NYCFC’s home field meets the minimum 110-by-70-yard standard set by FIFA.
It’s smaller and not at a soccer-specific stadium – and NYCFC had little trouble dominating there last season. The Pigeons posted a 10-5-2 record in Yankee Stadium and star forward David Villa obviously wasn’t bothered while playing in the Bronx. He scored 13 goals in 15 matches at Yankee Stadium last season.
It’s a hostile environment and it’s where Orlando City is trying to pick up its first win of the season. The Lions (0-1-1, 1 point) will get another chance to leave New York with points at 3:55 p.m. on Saturday when they take on NYCFC (2-0-0, 6 points).
The game will broadcast nationally on Univision Deportes and streamed live on Twitter.
Mar 10, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Minnesota United midfielder Ethan Finlay (13) celebrates with defender Francisco Calvo (5) and teammates as he scores a goal against the Orlando City during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said it’s hard to get a read on exactly how good the Lions are yet because no one has seen them with the first-choice lineup.
“I think it will be a different Orlando from the first two games that they played,” he said. “I think when you look at the games they played, they’ve been really unlucky at times. They may deserve to get more than what they had in these two games, but they have quality individual players and if we want to win we have to be at our best again.”
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan as plenty of experience competing against NYCFC, thanks to his time with the New York Red Bulls. He’s making his long-awaited debut for Orlando City this weekend after serving a two-game suspension to start the season.
He’s one of several players Orlando City has been waiting to see in action after a busy offseason. Designated players Josué Colmán and Dom Dwyer as well as new acquisitions like Lamine Sané and Uri Rosell haven’t played match minutes for the Lions yet.
“Good players always find a way to make a difference, no matter where the game is,” Kljestan said. “David Villa has shown that. Hopefully I can help my team to a win.”
Kljestan had high praise for the Pigeons, who are 2-0-0 through their first two matches for the first time in club history.
“David Villa has got to be the first and foremost thing on everybody’s minds, especially defenders. Got to know where he is at all times. They have got players all around the field and a good tactical system. I think Patrick Vieira has instilled in them a good passing ability.
“The way they play out of the back. The way they play through midfield and counterattack pretty fast, they’re a very good team. I think they’ll be towards the top of the East all season.”
Mar 11, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy defender Rolf Feltscher (25) passes the ball past New York City midfielder Alexander Ring (8) during the second half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Kljestan has had a few successful outings at Yankee Stadium – he recorded three multi-assist games there while with the Red Bulls.
“Sometimes you just see on set pieces, they become very important [at Yankee Stadium], too,” Kljestan said. “The ball is so in tight and you can deliver it right where you want it, hopefully.”
On the size of the pitch, he added, “It’s not ideal for the beautiful game, but I think it’s still going to be a very entertaining game. They’ve always been pretty entertaining games between these two clubs over the past few years.”
Orlando City was one of two teams to beat NYCFC at Yankee Stadium last season.
“I think the game looks and feels different [at Yankee Stadium],” Kreis said. “Obviously, it looks different for spectators, for sure. When you watch the game on TV, it’s different. For the players, I think it’s even more different because the time and space you have on the ball is so very short and so very small.
“Then, there’s a lot of reaction plays. It’s extremely important that you’re very, very alert on the whole day if you want to get any kind of result.”
Pro Soccer USA writer Dylan Butler contributed to this report.