Until they conceded a late Portland equalizer in the Group F closer, LAFC were ticketed for the other side of the bracket. Now here they stand in the way of this summer's ultimate underdog story. We actually saw the Lions play tight with LAFC in last September’s 2-2 draw (which also lacked Carlos Vela). But can they actually beat them this go-around to continue the home turf fun?
With new head coach Oscar Pareja pulling the strings, Orlando are playing with an assurance they’ve rarely shown in five-plus MLS campaigns. Because of that, the Lions might just fancy themselves with a puncher's chance on Friday night (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, FOX Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS2 in Canada).
Life in the fast lanes
One could say the first job in defeating LAFC is stopping them from blowing you out. That translates into ensuring Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez don't run wild on you. If you let them, they will do so gleefully.
Nobody should expect Joao Moutinho and Ruan to entirely eliminate the threat posed by LAFC's Uruguayan flank ninjas. However, they do have the athletic skills required to smother some of those darting runs. It will be a tight-wire act, since both get forward as part of Orlando City's gameplan with the ball. Then again, nobody promised this assignment would be easy.
The LAFC attackers deservedly earn tons of praise (and fear, don't forget the fear), but it's their do-it-all midfield trio of Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye that makes that team thrive. To beat Bob Bradley's boys, you need to hold your own in central park.
That hasn’t been an Orlando City staple in years past, but suddenly they seem to have a stable that won't back down. Since a hot-and-cold opener, Sebastian Mendez, Mauricio Pereyra, Oriol Rosell and Junior Urso have all been solid, disrupting rushes and advancing the ball positively. I'm not saying they're likely to out-do the LAFC midfield, but they might be able to keep them from steamrolling.
The open door
With eight goals allowed through four MLS is Back matches, you can surmise LAFC’s problems mainly occur at the back. The back four have yet to adapt to Walker Zimmerman's offseason departure, and they can be breached. Case in point: In their first six games of 2020 against MLS opposition, LAFC have leaked multiple goals four times.
While LAFC have conceded at all points of matches, Orlando City would do well to go after them early. The Black-and-Gold went down 1-0 inside of 10 minutes during each of their Group F matches.
Punishing late mistakes
This dovetails neatly into the last one. Even when times were tough, it was often trouble to let Orlando City hang around a game too long. Tiring teams would get sloppy and the Lions turned into superheroes, dizzying teams left wondering how they managed to surrender points.
It happens enough to serve as a warning. Including MLS is Back results, the Lions have won 51 MLS games over their short, bumpy history. In 19 of those victories, they hit the winner within the last 20 minutes of the contest. And on nine of those occasions, Orlando City's late winner completed a rally from behind.
As seen in the tournament opener against Inter Miami, Orlando City's lead troublemakers these days are Chris Mueller and Nani. After they did a whole lot of nothing until the 70th minute, those two made the Herons pay for late errors and secured a 2-1 derby win in Group A.
C'mon, it's MLS
As MLS observers, we all expect nothing less than a healthy amount of surprises. We've enjoyed plot twists all through the Tournament, with Orlando City among the biggest. The Round of 16 saw a couple of mild head-turner results, but a bigger upset is still to come. Full of newfound vigor, Orlando City have the next chance to pull off a stunner.