Impact-Orlando City Preview
No longer relying on its former FIFA World Player of the Year for goals, results have started coming for Orlando City. The Montreal Impact have leaned heavily on their two-time African Footballer of the Year while bettering the expansion club’s recent run.
There’s more on the line, however, than a couple of franchise-best streaks Saturday night when the Impact visit the Citrus Bowl: crucial ground in the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
Orlando (10-13-8) trails Montreal (12-11-6) by four points for the sixth spot in the East, but the Impact have two games in hand – so the first-year side is almost facing a must-win scenario with three matches remaining.
"Everybody knows how important this game is for us," midfielder Kaka told the club’s official website. "We have the whole week to prepare, and we are getting ready."
The club has responded well to dire circumstances recently with a franchise-best three straight wins, including Friday’s 5-2 victory at New York for easily its most impressive road victory. Kaka, who returned from a three-match absence due to international duty with Brazil and a leg injury suffered on the call-up, assisted on three.
Kaka hasn’t scored in eight matches after netting nine through his first 18 in the league, and part of the reason Orlando hasn’t suffered with its superstar in more of a set-up role is because of Cyle Larin.
The forward scored three times against the Red Bulls and established a new MLS rookie scoring record with 14. Orlando is 6-2-1 when Larin scores and 4-0-5 when Kaka does. The duo has 23 of the club’s 42 league goals, and Orlando is 3-11-2 when neither scores.
That’s tame in comparison to the Impact’s dependence lately on Didier Drogba. The forward scored twice in the first 11 minutes of last Saturday’s 2-0 home win over D.C.
Drogba didn’t score in his MLS debut Aug. 22 when he came on as a substitute, but he managed seven goals in five September starts. He’s already tied with Dominic Oduro for second behind Ignacio Piatti’s team-leading eight goals.
"He has been an iconic player for the past twenty years," Orlando coach Adrian Heath said of the MLS Player of the Month. "He takes great positions in the box. When the ball goes wide, he will be in the right spot at the right time."
It was Montreal’s third straight win and extended its team-record unbeaten streak to six. Should it continue this weekend, the Impact can jump as high as fourth in the East.
They’re a point back of Toronto with a match in hand and two back of United with two in hand. They’ve also played two fewer matches than Columbus and New England, who are five points ahead, so second place isn’t out of the question before the season ends.
That’ll require some road success, however, with the Impact playing their next four away from Montreal. At 2-7-4, they’re tied for the second lowest road win total in MLS.
This will be the Impact’s first trip to the Citrus Bowl. The previous two meetings in Montreal resulted in a 2-0 win for the Impact on June 20 and a 2-2 draw March 28.