First up, thanks to The Mane Land for answering Center Line Soccer’s three questions:
CLS: Cyle Larin is well on track to be Orlando’s leading scorer again in 2017. On a cost per goal basis, has Larin ($27K per goal) usurped the superstar status of Kaká ($2.3M per goal)?
TML: Obviously Larin has a much smaller salary so those numbers are always going to show a huge disparity. Kaká also chips in quite a few more assists than Cyle, although not so far this season, which was marred by an early injury to the captain. Larin has become one of the most dangerous strikers in MLS and as he’s still on his first deal, he’s quite a bargain. The fact that he’s well on his way to a third consecutive double-figure goal total is an indicator that the Canadian is going to be paid soon, either by Orlando City or some club in Europe that needs a target striker.
As far as star appeal, there’s still no topping the Brazilian, who coaxes audible oohs and aahs out of the Orlando City Stadium crowd every game with his passing, dribbling, and creativity. Over the last few games, the captain has also brought thunderous cheers with his goal-scoring prowess. Kaká’s Brazilian flair still captures the imagination a bit more than the quiet Canadian does, but it’s safe to say both players are vital to Orlando’s success.
CLS: It’s all too easy to get distracted by Orlando’s shiniest objects – Larin and Kaká (as I just did). Which other Orlando players are impressing since the two teams last met last June?
TML: A few jump out in 2017. In addition to goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who has been mostly spectacular since joining the club, defenders Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter stand out not only for vastly improving the defense, but the latter also has three assists already. Spector has organized and steadied a shaky back line, while Sutter impresses with his crosses, footwork, and possession game out on the right flank.
Additionally, I’d call out Carlos Rivas, who has started to play like a DP finally, although the Lions could use a few more goals from him. Will Johnson has solidified the midfield and does a good job connecting the back line to the attacking players. Johnson and fellow newcomer Spector have also been instrumental in changing the attitude of the team with their leadership.
CLS: The Lions face a stretch of three games in eight days – how will coach Jason Kreis manage that schedule, and how will he adapt his roster to face the Earthquakes?
TML: It’s three in nine this time, although the club did just have a three-in-eight stretch prior to Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City. But it’s a bigger ask in terms of travel, going coast to coast to coast this time, rather than playing home before heading north to Toronto and south to Houston.
When Kreis was asked about what he’d learned from the recent busy stretch he mentioned that the club would have to do something differently although he didn’t specify what that was. He mentioned either completely resting certain players or playing the exact same lineup.
“I think we have to look at what we can do differently, whether that’s rotating more players, whether that’s staying with the same lineup in all three games, I think we have to think of those things,” he said.
Those are polar opposites, so it’s tough to know what he’ll do. My suspicion is that we’ll see the first appearance of somebody on the back line, either Seb Hines, PC, or Rafael Ramos. We may also see a new attacking option in the 18, like striker Hadji Barry or midfielder Richie Laryea. If Kreis does stick with the same starters, I would think the team will be much less likely to have the fullbacks jump into the attack, as that was a problem in Houston and wore down the defense.
With a home game coming up on the weekend vs. New York City FC, Kreis will want fresh troops. I’m going to project a bit of a different starting lineup: Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Seb Hines, Rafael Ramos; Cristian Higuita, Servando Carrasco, Will Johnson, Kaká; Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.
Next up, the Center Line Soccer answers The Mane Land’s three questions:
TML: We haven’t seen the Earthquakes since Adrian Heath was still Orlando City’s coach. What is different about the 2017 San Jose squad?
CLS: There are four notable additions that are proving productive for the Earthquakes this year.
Jahmir Hyka, at number ten and dubbed the Albanian Messi, is a dynamic new midfielder signed from Swiss Super League’s Luzern. Despite his diminutive stature (hence the nickname) he can control the ball, has good pace and creativity – he complements Anibal Godoy very well in midfield, and has two goals and three assists on the season.
Nick Lima is the Earthquakes second homegrown player; the first was Tommy Thompson. Lima came up through local academies and then to University of California, where he was converted from a forward to defender. He performs well at right back, and his experience in attack makes him a talent to watch. He tackles opposing wingers effectively, and his attacking mentality has led to one goal in eight starts. He hasn’t seen any action in the last couple of games, and fans are wondering why.
Florian Jungwirth, is a new defender signed after two and a half seasons with SV Darmstadt 98 of the German Bundesliga. He’s been starting at center back since new DP Harold Cummings was injured (and has yet to play this season), and has settled in well with Victor Bernardez. He’s also starting to work well with Chris Wondolowski, evidenced by his two assists to Wondo’s brace in the recent 3-0 victory over the Portland Timbers. One of the most vocal players on the squad, his enthusiasm is unquestionable, and he, Wondo, and Hyka lead the Quakes players to thank the fans after each home game.
Costa Rican Marco Ureña (via Brondy IF) is proving his worth deflecting attention from Chris Wondolowski. While he only has tallied one goal and one assist so far, he has a creativity that benefits the players around him. He's up there in terms of shots on goal with Wondo, and I expect he'll continue to augment his own stats as the season progresses.
TML: What is the overall thought behind the 2017 Earthquakes? Are fans waiting for a swoon after the team’s decent start or is the feeling that this year Dominic Kinnear’s club puts it together and makes it to the postseason?
CLS: Consistently inconsistent. From where I sit, the fans can enjoy a wonderfully cohesive performance, such as the 3-0 victory over the Timbers one week, and then be dismayed by a lackluster performance on the road against the Colorado Rapids the next. It’s frustrating, perplexing and disorienting.
In my opinion, the Earthquakes haven’t really put in a robust run of games from which to swoon. Thus far, this season is fast becoming reminiscent of the 2016 season, in which the Earthquakes finished 9th in the Western Conference (after finishing 7thin 2015, and 9th in 2014). This stretch hasn’t all been on Kinnear’s watch, but missing another postseason this year won’t bode well for the coaching staff.
TMLS: San Jose is one of the league’s unbeaten teams at home. Aside from the obvious “it’s hard to win on the road in MLS” thing, do the Earthquakes do things differently at home than they do on the road?
CLS: Without some serious data analysis that involves spreadsheets, statistics and a minimum of three espressos, I’m at a loss to put my finger on the difference between the home and away performances of the Earthquakes (3-0-2 & 1-4-1 respectively) – and that seems to be an issue for Orlando too (5-0-1 & 1-3-0). Is it jet lag? Orlando will be kicking off at 10:30 PM EDT, so maybe that will work in the Earthquakes favor.
The Earthquakes don’t need to do anything differently at home. It’s worth considering what the Earthquakes do differently on the road, and focus there on the fixing that shabby away record. Intuitively, it feels like the passing suffers in the away version of the Earthquakes, and productive attacks are rare. Overall, the Earthquakes passing accuracy (84%) was better than Colorado (82%), but that fell to 53% in the final third (compared to 72% for the Rapids). I suspect the Earthquakes realize that, and will also be looking to fill in the defensive gaps that let in three goals last weekend. In the meantime I’m brewing a double espresso and firing up a spreadsheet…
Long-term absences include Quincy Amarikwa (F, knee); Marvell Wynne (D, heart abnormality); Harold Cummings (D, leg surgery); Shea Salinas (M, knee injury). Victor Bernardez (D) is listed as questionable with a calf injury.
Kinnear may make several changes from last lineup, given the short turn around. If Bernárdez can’t go, then Kinnear has previously put Godoy on the back line, in which case I would add Dawkins to mid-field. Given that the Earthquakes will have to deal with Cerén and Kaká, then he might opt for a more experienced (if depleted) back line, so maybe Sarkodie gets the start over Lima or Cato (who is still getting used to playing right back, and whose advantage is speed rather than size). My heart says Lima, so here’s my lineup assuming Bernardez starts – let’s see what Kinnear does:
Prediction: a high scoring game – 3-2 Earthquakes