ORLANDO, Fla. – International duty always takes its toll on clubs, but the upcoming March FIFA dates are hitting Orlando City SC especially hard.
So much so that head coach Adrian Heath may struggle to even name 18 players to the game-day roster for Saturday’s trip to Montreal (4 pm ET, TSN3/4/5 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US) thanks to seven international call-ups on top of an early-season injury epidemic.
The Lions were without four front-line choices due to injury and illness for their 1-0 home defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps over the weekend. Of those who did play, Brek Shea, Rafael Ramos, Darwin Ceren, Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino will be on international duty, along with young backups Conor Donovan and Estrela.
With Northern Ireland striker Martin Paterson still struggling with a hamstring problem and continued doubts over Carlos Rivas, Bryan Rochez and Cristian Higuita, every remaining member of the squad is likely to be named for Montreal.
“It looks like we may only have 17 for the team sheet on Saturday,” Heath said. “It’s obviously not ideal, but there’s no good moaning about it as it’s the same situation for most teams this weekend with the international call-ups.
“There will be some opportunities this week for players who haven’t seen any play yet and, if they take their chance, they can give me a tough decision about who plays next week. Is it ideal? Obviously not, but I am pretty philosophical about it and we have to get on with it.”
Luke Boden, Orlando’s USL stalwart, will take over for Shea at left back while Irish international Sean St Ledger will almost certainly return to the back four, with Seb Hines taking Ramos’ slot on the right. Ex-Colorado Rapids midfielder Tony Cascio is likely to fill in for Trinidadian ace Molino, and former No.1 SuperDraft pick Danny Mwanga can expect at least a place on the bench after not figuring in the 18 in the three games so far.
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Heath expects Lewis Neal to have shaken off the stomach bug that sidelined him last Saturday. Heath also said both Rivas and Higuita are making progress from their injuries, but he will not know their game status until Wednesday or Thursday.
“We will evaluate things as we go this week,” Heath said. “Cristian and Carlos are certainly responding to treatment, but we have to consider if it’s too much of a gamble at this stage. I think I will have a team in mind by Wednesday.”