ORLANDO, Fla. – Aurelien Collin and Seb Hines are going to have to hold the defensive fort for just a bit longer for Orlando City, as it looks like it’ll take at least another week before reinforcements arrive for the Lions.
With three games in eight days – starting last weekend at home against Columbus, continuing on Wednesday night at Toronto FC and concluding with Saturday’s visit by Philadelphia – Adrian Heath was hoping for some much-needed help on the injury and new arrivals front.
But, as the team boarded the plane for Canada on Tuesday, OCSC’s head coach admitted he is likely to be short of options again, especially in defense, where Collin and Hines are likely to have to work overtime.
New signing David Mateos, the former Real Madrid center back, is still working his way through the visa process for international players, as is midfielder Adrian Winter, while fullback Rafael Ramos looks set to miss a third successive game due to a thigh injury.
Second round SuperDraft pick Conor Donovan has been recalled from his loan to the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, but Orlando will still be extremely thin for defensive cover against a Toronto team that also has injury and suspension worries of its own.
“We are taking every fit and available player,” Heath said. “We will probably also be waiting on a couple of players for last-minute fitness checks tomorrow. One or two had checks today and will travel and we are hoping they will improve in the next 24 hours.
“But I am always confident with the group we have. I have still seen nothing that suggests we can’t make the playoffs if we play to the level of last Saturday, and, injuries or not, we are capable of getting a result at Toronto.”
Rather than harp on the injury situation, Heath prefers to look at the offensive capabilities of his team, which has come alive to the tune of eight goals in the last two games. Rookie of the Year frontrunner Cyle Larin has led the way with five strikes, with Collin, Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita chipping in, too.
Higuita’s first goal for Orlando was one of the highlights of last Saturday’s 5-2 rout of Crew SC, and his midfield partnership with El Salvador captain Ceren has become a key component of the team’s balance.
“They showed against Columbus how important they are to the team,” Heath said. “As a general rule, when they play well, the team plays well. They give us a platform to build from and much of what we do flows from that.
“Obviously the midfield area is always a key part of the game, but Cristian and Darwin are building a good understanding together and we need them to maintain what they showed us last Saturday.”
The Spanish-speaking duo have become firm friends off the field as well as partners on it, and their sudden emergence as goal scorers could be just the boost seventh-place Orlando need to make up ground in the standings.
“It helps to have a good friend playing alongside you,” Ceren confirmed. “We get on very well together and Cristian is probably my best friend off the field, so it makes for a good partnership.
Heath is convinced his men still have the playoffs firmly in their sights. Every Eastern Conference game now takes on extra significance with only five points separating the second-place New York Red Bulls from Orlando.
“I know one or two eyebrows were raised in preseason when I said we were capable of reaching the playoffs, but I still believe it,” Heath said. “I said all along there will be four or five teams battling for the last two playoff places, and we are certainly one of them.
“Toronto are right in there as well, which makes it a big game for both teams and, with Philadelphia on Saturday, we need to keep picking up points.”