For an offseason of mass rebuild, with over a dozen faces coming in and out of the club, Orlando City’s new-look lineup has brought in only the same old results.
While a draw and a loss, both at home to considerably weaker opponents, in their first two games has the Lions off to a poorer start than anticipated, the absences of several key starters — including all three of Designated Players — has highlighted the two disappointing affairs.
But this weekend’s away fixture against New York City FC brings plenty of optimism with Sacha Kljestan’s long-awaited debut for Orlando City after missing the first two games of the year due to a suspension stemming from an altercation in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs.
Kljestan brings a level of skill and play-making ability to an Orlando City attack that has lacked much of both so far, and Jason Kreis couldn’t sound anything but excited for the debut of one of his new offseason pickups.
“I think he’s an important player for us,” Kreis said after the team’s 2-1 loss to Minnesota over the weekend. “I think if we compound the issue when we don’t have another number 10 that’s healthy, with Josué Colman being injured, and so, for the last two weeks we’ve been playing players out of position to fill that spot and I feel like we’ve lacked just a little bit of quality. Nothing to do with the effort, I think the guys’ effort has been fantastic.”
The Lions have played without a real No. 10 this season, using Yoshimar Yotun and Richie Laryea in the space in each of the first two games, both quality players, but neither dynamic enough to influence the attack in ways that Kljestan can.
Kljestan’s addition to the lineup will be welcomed news to Justin Meram, probably more than anybody. Meram was a bright spot in the Lions’ opening match, but less so in the loss to Minnesota because of the lack of quality around him in the final third.
“I think Justin will probably one of the happiest players on out squad to have Sacha added in there,” Kreis said. “I think all of our players will, in fact, because Sacha is a tremendous leader as well. What he brings just from a character point of view out there – been there, done that. From that point of view, he will be a massive addition for us. So we’re all looking forward to it, no doubt.”
The returns of other factor players like Dom Dwyer and Josue Coleman will take a bit longer, but for this weekend at least, the Lions will finally have their No. 10 in the lineup, and defender Jonathan Spector knows it’ll mean a lot for the squad.
“We’ve missed Sacha, you know the guys have come in an we do not have a natural number 10, we have guys trying to fill those roles and they’ve done really well and worked incredibly hard. The are doing their best for the team. But Having a player like Sacha will improve the attacking threat. He’s a natural number 10, that’s his role. We will be glad to have him back.”
The Lions will be on the road this weekend when they travel to Yankee Stadium to take on NYCFC on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (Univision, Twitter).