New York City FC-Orlando City Preview
Possibly the most internationally identifiable roster in MLS has been eliminated from playoff contention in its inaugural season, and it can now play a direct role in sending its expansion brethren to the same fate.
Orlando City's slim postseason chances rest on a lineup missing its star and will come to an end with a loss or draw Friday night at the Citrus Bowl against New York City FC, which was nudged out of the Eastern Conference race while idle last weekend.
Orlando (11-13-8) has clung to postseason possibility with a desperate four-match winning streak following a 1-7-3 span that all but sunk it. It sits in seventh on 41 points, four back of Montreal with two games remaining for each club.
Complicating things further is the suspension of Kaka due to caution accumulation, though playing without its former FIFA Player of the Year hasn't gone terribly. He played 90 minutes in a 2-1 win over the Impact on Oct. 3, receiving a yellow card in first-half stoppage time, but missed the first two matches on the winning streak.
Lewis Neal figures to fill the playmaking role and go up against NYCFC's Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.
"It is a game to be excited about and look forward to, but you can't get carried away with the hype," Neal told the league's official website. "Even though the stakes are so high, you learn to use your experience to focus on it as just another game, even if it isn't.
"It doesn't really matter who is on the field. There are going to be some big names, sure, but that is usually the case in MLS these days, and we can't afford to get carried away with who is on the other side of the field."
The absences don't end with Kaka, though, as Brek Shea is also due to miss the match for the same reason after being shown a yellow in the 87th minute against the Impact.
The club does have some home success to fall back on, winning its last two and going unbeaten in five with a 6-2-4 mark at the Citrus Bowl since losing three of its first four.
Orlando opened the year with a 1-1 home draw with NYCFC on March 8, then lost 5-3 as things opened up at Yankee Stadium on July 26. New York's Mix Diskerud scored in both, while Kaka got the home goal for Orlando.
In New York, however, Cyle Larin scored all three for Orlando and David Villa provided a brace for NYCFC.
It was Lampard who scored in the first minute as NYCFC (10-15-7) fell short of a fourth straight win in a 2-1 loss at D.C. on Oct. 2, then was eliminated as Montreal defeated Colorado on Saturday. The long-time Chelsea midfielder has three goals in his last four matches, though it's his Spanish teammate who's gathering international attention.
Now that NYCFC's season has a set end date, rumors of a potential Villa loan to a high-profile European club have picked up. The 33-year-old's 17 league goals are tied with Robbie Keane for third in MLS, sparking the possibility of a Barcelona return as the Catalans struggle through Lionel Messi's absence, or a stay with NYCFC sister club Manchester City. Whatever the destination, he's approaching it with a priority on MLS.
"I've not even analyzed the idea of going on loan, though, because I don't know if it's a real possibility," Villa said. "Right now, I want to finish the season well. I don't know if it would be the best decision for the club, who want me to rest and be ready to return on January 21."