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Downstream: What to expect from Orlando City in Game 2

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Orlando City is making the journey from the balmy world of Disney to take on the Rapids on an unusually warm Saturday for a Colorado March.

SOCCER: FEB 29 MLS - Orlando City SC v Real Salt Lake

Pink Hearts, Orange Stars, Yellow Moons, Green Clovers, and Purple Lions. Orlando City is making the journey from the balmy world of Disney to take on the Colorado Rapids on an unusually warm Saturday for a March in the Rockies. Let’s take a look at the visitors.

2019 Record: 9-15-10, 37 points, 11th in the Eastern Conference

2019 Postseason: N/A

Goals For: 44 (9th in EC)

Goals Against: 52 (T-8th in EC)

Key Roster Losses: Shane O’Neill and Dillon Powers (ex-Rapids players), Sacha Kljestan, Will Johnson

Key Roster Additions: Andres Perea, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, Junior Urso

2020 So Far: 0-0-1, zero points

Last Result: 0-0 tie against Real Salt Lake at home.

Do you remember our match against Orlando from last year? I’ll give you a hint—the team in burgundy was sitting comfortably in the 80th minute, up 3-2, only to let an unfortunate goal in followed by the purple team scoring a PK in the 89the minute to rob us of 3 points. In all of our losses throughout the start of last year, this is the one that I still remember. But the main storyline I remember isn’t even about the goalline. It was about a certain altercation between our Kellyn Acosta and their DP, ex-Manchester United and at the time hot topic, Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, better known as Nani.

Nani came as Orlando’s attempt to stay relevant after over a year without a true star player. The league/referees have had a reputation for giving bigger names preferential treatment, and what happened in that game was a clear example of that. Nani essentially headbutted Acosta, not once but twice in the same altercation. Any clear interpretation of that would result in Nani being given a red card and ejected from the game. Instead, he walked away without even a yellow. Later, who else but Nani ended up sinking the game-winning PK. The player who should have been sent off turned around and delivered a gut punch to the Rapids faithful.

At the time, I felt like it was an undeserved win for Orlando. But that was almost a year ago. I’ve gotten older, wiser, more experienced. An entire season of loss, wins, and turbulent change later, I still feel Orlando was handed an undeserved win. To me, this isn’t just another time an Eastern Conference team is coming to town. This is going to be a chance for us to get revenge.

2019 wasn’t a great season for Orlando. Nor was 2018… or 2017, or 2016, or 2015 when they first joined the league. Five years in the league, and not a single playoff appearance. They were pushing for a banner year in 2019, but then ended up locking down the 11th place in the Eastern Conference, just above FC Cincinnati. While their goals for and goals allowed were on the bad side of average for the EC, the results just couldn’t hold. They, once again, failed to get into the playoffs, and another disappointing year was in the books.

Naturally, after such a frustrating and stressful year, their offseason was going to need to be another rebuilding year. This first started with the firing of their head coach, James O’Connor, and hiring of ex-Rapids head coach, Oscar Pareja. They denied options on eight players and another three had their contracts ended, including ex-USMNT player Sacha Kljestan. To replace them, Orlando got some players on loan and signed a few homegrown players and some draft picks. With all three of their DP slots occupied, they couldn’t go and splash any major cash, but they did pick up many South American players on loan. No names I recognize, but don’t read too much into that.

Orlando’s home opener last weekend wasn’t a great sign of things to come, either. A scoreless tie against our arch-rivals Real Salt Lake doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Partially, this is due to not only DP Dom Dwyer being injured, but also because Nani wasn’t even in the 18, as he was still under suspension for behavior towards a referee in their final game of 2019.

Nani definitely won’t be available against the Rapids and Dwyer probably won’t be, either. A loss of two high-paycheck scorers is going to make a difference, obviously. It showed in their game against RSL, as they weren’t able to get a goal at all. They are going to rely on Canadian forward Tesho Akindele, but without many of their key players, Orlando is going to have an uphill battle.

Last week’s game for us against DC United showed a lot of promise. It gives us a lot of hope for our home opener, so let’s all head to the Rapids stadium to kick off the 2020 home campaign in style as we watch the ‘Pids take down the Lions.