ORLANDO, Fla. – Guessing games on starting lineups are all part and parcel of the prematch mind games coaches play in the course of a season but, for once, Adrian Heath can be forgiven for playing his cards tight to his chest ahead of Orlando City SC’s clash with Montreal Impact on Saturday (4 pm ET, TSN3 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US).
Thanks to the combination of international call-ups and injuries, the Lions head coach has just 16 players – two of them goalkeepers – available to face their second Canadian opponent in successive weeks, following the 1-0 home defeat by Vancouver last Saturday.
After last-minute fitness checks, Heath had to leave Martin Paterson, Lewis Neal, Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita behind in Florida, adding to the seven unavailable due to national team duty. Of his original starting XI on March 8, only five remain, while six of the 16 he can field have yet to play a single minute this season.
It is a bizarre situation just four games into their MLS journey, but Heath remains upbeat, and still expects his team to be able to grab three points.
“It is the smallest squad I can ever remember having for a game,” he admitted. “You don’t ever imagine being in this situation when you have 28 on your roster. We have brought everybody who is fit but we have been saying since Monday about thinking positive and just controlling the controllables.
“We can’t change the rules and we can’t do anything about injuries, so I just want the guys who play in the frame of mind to go out and win a game of football. That’s all that matters.”
Heath’s usual tactical formation of 4-2-3-1 is likely to go out the window with the lack of personnel at his disposal and he will, instead, look to maximize the experience of those he has left, notably Kaká up front, Amobi Okugo in midfield and Aurelien Collin at the back. But he will also have to factor in a lot of youth as the other 14 outfield players include teenage defenders Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding, his son, midfielder Harrison – who turned 18 only this month – and former No. 1 draft pick Danny Mwanga.
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“I do have a lineup in mind,” Heath added, “But I will let the guys know tomorrow and we’ll take it from there. It’s very possible that after the game, every one of our players will have played minutes, even the younger ones.
“It certainly isn’t the way you draw it up but sometime these things have a way of working out and we will definitely know what we have got right through our squad.”
Heath also explained that Orlando fans had better get used to this white-knuckle ride before games, as it might not be the only time it happens this year.
“You look at the calendar and we might have a few weeks like this,” he warned. “With the Gold Cup, U-20 World Cup and other international events, you only need three or four injuries on those weeks to be back in this situation, so it will be good to give the players this experience.”