Nashville SC kick off their 2021 playoff campaign on Tuesday night against Orlando City. To get the latest on the Lions, we talked with Ben Miller, who covers Orlando for The Mane Land. Make sure to follow @TheManeLand for the latest on Orlando City.
Ben Wright: It feels from an outside perspective that Orlando kind of limped into the playoffs a bit, winning just three of their last 12. Is that fair, and if so, what do you think the issues were? Have they resolved those in time for the postseason?
Ben Miller: I think that is absolutely fair. The frustrating thing, is that it didn’t need to be that way. The four match losing streak in early September was bad, but it also came at a time when Orlando was beset on all sides by injuries and suspensions.
The stretch of games that really hurt were the four that took place from October 20th to October 31st. In three of those four games, OCSC had second half leads and ultimately only came away with a point each time, including the October 31st draw with Nashville. If the Lions get three points in just one of those games then they jump from sixth to fourth and have a home game instead of hitting the road.
The issue was simply defensive solidity, especially early in the second half of games. In the draws against Montreal and Nashville, OCSC conceded equalizers within 10 minutes of the second half starting. Those sluggish restarts were a killer. In the Decision Day victory against Montreal those issues did seem to have been fixed, as the Lions kept a clean sheet and started the second half well.
The challenge will be carrying that over into a hostile road environment.
BW: Obviously Nani is a key player for them, but when he’s not changing games, who’s the next man up for Orlando?
BM: It has to be Mauricio Pereyra. He’s the best passer on the team hands down and has the ability to make that special feed to unlock any defense in the league. Plus, if he’s cooking and getting into dangerous areas then it takes some of the opposition’s attention away from Nani and gives him a bit more freedom to do his thing.
If he doesn’t show up on Tuesday then it’s going to make things extremely difficult for Orlando.
BW: What does Orlando need to do to win this? And what would need to happen for them to lose.
BM: Orlando has to win the battle in midfield. Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez need to be aggressive in winning the ball and trying to disrupt Nashville’s play in the middle of the field. Additionally, whoever plays left back, whether its Emmanuel Mas or Joao Moutinho, needs to do a good job of marshalling Hany Mukhtar.
Mas mostly did a good job the last time these two teams played, but the one time he was caught out of position up the field, Mukhtar made Orlando pay. It isn’t clear yet which one will get the start, but whoever it is needs to have a big game.
BW: Any injuries? Do you have a lineup/score prediction?
BM: As I alluded earlier, the big injury question is Joao Moutinho. He has not appeared since Orlando’s October 2nd win over D.C. United when he came off at halftime, and he’s listed as questionable on the injury report. Other than that, it should be a healthy squad for the Lions.
Assuming Moutinho is fit to start, here’s how I see the lineup (4-2-3-1):
Pedro Gallese; Joao Moutinho, Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, Ruan; Sebas Mendez; Junior Urso; Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, Chris Mueller; Daryl Dike.
For a prediction I think Nashville takes this 2-1 in extra time.