DC United - Wayne Rooney
Orlando City SC - Oscar Pareja
Entering his fourth season as Head Coach of Orlando City, Óscar Pareja has brought a great deal of success to the Lion’s of Orlando. Since his hiring in December of 2019, Orlando City have finished no lower than seventh in the Eastern Conference, and have participated in the playoffs for 3 straight seasons. They have also enjoyed some tournament successes with a second-place finish in the MLS Is Back Tournament and winning last season’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.
Keys to the Match:
Can the Rooney Magic Continue? DC United Head Coach Wayne Rooney is 4-0-0 against Orlando City as a player and manager combined, with something outrageous happening in all 4 games. There’s the infamous Rooney assist to Luciano Acosta, Rooney scored on a free kick from just outside the corner, and he scored from 67 yards out in another match. As head coach, Rooney then saw the Black and Red score twice in second half stoppage time to stun Orlando at Audi Field in his managerial debut.
How Well Does DC Bounce Back? The Black and Red will look to bounce back from their defeat in Columbus, that took away some of the goodwill they had earned with their season opening win. The terribleness of DC is overstated; despite what many pundits might suggest, the game against the Crew wasn’t nearly as one-sided as was reported. Lucas Zelarayan, and Cucho Hernandez were the best players on the field, but DC was able to create shots, and continued to develop the offensive identity that Wayne Rooney has been attempting to instill. Against the Crew, the Black and Red managed to control a lot of the game with 53% possession, in which they created 15 shots, 7 on target while also winning 7 corner kicks. The trouble is, Orlando City are in excellent defensive form, having not given up a goal in either their MLS matches or CONCACAF Champions League.
Does Orlando rotate their lineup? Orlando is unbeaten in the 2023 MLS campaign, winning their first and drawing the second of their opening two games. Orlando City got a 1-0 win at home to New York Red Bulls, thanks to a penalty midway through the second half. However, they failed to score away at Cincinnati, settling for a goalless draw, though the lineup was heavily rotated in preparation for the CONCACAF Champions League match Orlando played midweek. In that match they again played to an impressive 0-0 draw against Tigres UANL away. This leaves them with a chance to get to the next round of the Champions League, so Orlando is most likely going to rotate with Tigres coming for another midweek draw next week. With this quick turnaround it will be interesting to see how Orlando City plays at Audi Field on Saturday.
Things to Watch:
Offense - DC United will continue to try and control the ball; how well they do this will go along way in determining the outcome. A big part of this will be how well Klich and Najar play. Both of those players have tremendous control, and the ability to dribble the ball forward. It will be interesting if Ruan is given any playing time. He’s yet to see the field, but his speed, and ability to run at defenders could be quite helpful.
The other aspect is the second forward, does Rooney continue to pair Nigel Robertha with Christian Benteke. This worked reasonably well against Toronto, but was not able to exploit the Crew’s high line. Ted Ku-DiPietro has looked strong off the bench, and it might be time to give the young homegrown player a look. Another idea would be to move Klich into a false 9 and move Victor Pálsson into his more natural defensive midfield position. Both Klich and Ted KDP would be better at getting Benteke the ball in a dangerous position.
Defense - The big question for the Black and Red will be who Wayne Rooney starts. Does Rooney continue to play Victor Pálsson as a Center-Back? Does he move Pálsson up and start either Derrick Williams or Matai Akinmboni who are true Center-Backs? Andy Najar has been one of United’s better performers, but does the team start Ruan, who played for Orlando City, and has more pace? Does Najar get moved up into the right midfield to allow Ruan onto the pitch? Steven Birnbaum and Mo Jeahze seem to be the only players where there isn’t a question as to if they will start. A big part of DC’s defensive frailties can be attributed to the fact that the defensive starters have not had any consistency. As this happens, there’s a reasonable expectation that the defense will improve.
Dan - 2-2. DC find their way to the back of the net, but defensive woes continue and they allow Orlando to come back from behind.
Richard - 2-1 DC. DC United are without a clean sheet in their last 4 meetings while Orlando City are without a clean sheet in their last 3 meetings.
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Written by: Daniel Morris and RJ Rolsen