Patrick Vieira: “We’re going to face a strong team who are in a good period but we’ve seen some weaknesses that we’ll try and exploit.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
New York City FC comes up against what many observers would consider a rather unlikely nemesis: an expansion team that started the same year as City.
That would be Orlando City SC, which holds a head-turning 4-1-2 record against the New York side since the teams joined Major League Soccer in 2015.
NYCFC will try to turn the tide of the rivalry the other way when it hosts the central Florida side at Yankee Stadium Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
The Lions (4-1-0, 12 points), who defeated fourth-place City (3-2-1, 10) in their season opener in Orlando March 5, 1-0, is in second place in the Eastern Conference, a point behind the Columbus Crew (4-2-1, 13).
“We’re going to face a strong team who are in a good period but we’ve seen some weaknesses that we’ll try and exploit,” NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira said. “Of course, it’s going to be another tough game but I think we have what it takes to give them a good game.”
Orlando is led by former City head coach Jason Kreis, who was booted after the team’s inaugural season in 2015.
“We knew at the beginning of the season that [NYCFC] had a lot of quality players but they weren’t together very long in the preseason,” Kreis said. “They had a lot of new players that joined them very late in the preseason and so they were still piecing things together a little bit, but still presented us a lot of problems as everybody knows. And now, after they’ve played six matches together of course they’re going to be an improved team. It’s one of the top teams in the league and it’ll be a terrific challenge for us to go there and try and attain out first road result of the year.”
Striker Cyle Larin has been a major headache for NYCFC after connecting for a hat-trick — his first as a professional — in a 5-3 loss in the Bronx on July 26, 2015, the lone City win in the series. Not surprisingly, the Canadian international tallied the lone goal of the Lions’ 1-0 season-opening win, a header to the back post.
“Everything he’s doing is going his way and I think when you’re a striker like that with the confidence, things look easy,” Vieira said. “It will be important for us to be close, to be tight and not give him any space.”
Larin leads the Lions with four goals and three assists.
Orlando is seeking its first road win. The visitors are 4-0-0 at home and 0-1-0 on the road.
“We also had some pieces that came together very late in the preseason,” Kreis said. “We had several injuries and we’ve had to piece together lineups for a lot of the games. We’ve had contributions from a lot of players and we have a better idea of what we’re trying to do now than we did in our first games so I think we’re also an improved team.”
Vieira hoped that last Friday’s 2-0 win at the Philadelphia Union would be a big boost for his side.
“It was important to win away from home in our last game,” he said. “I think when you look at the game and the way we controlled it, there was a lot of positive aspects of the game. Managing to play against a strong team, scoring goals and didn’t concede any, so that was a good performance away from home.”
A good performance at home against a nemesis could go a long, long way.