Opponent Insight: MN United FC @ Orlando City SC

Minnesota United Midfielder Hassani Dotson(31) wins a ball during an MLS match against Orlando City Soccer Club at Allianz Field on Saturday April 15, 2023 in St Paul, Minnesota (Photo by Tim McLaughlin)

An undefeated Minnesota United FC is once again on the road Saturday night to face Eastern foe Orlando City SC. It is a new era for both clubs, each with coaching changes since 2023. And, notably, it will be the Loons’ first trip to Orlando without Adrian Heath and Mark Watson, who led both clubs in the beginning of their MLS tenures. To get a better idea of how OCSC is faring in 2024, we connected with Ben Miller of The Mane Landwho filled us in on a packed schedule, bright futures, and a positive new Minnesota connection.

Orlando saw a coaching change this offseason with the arrival of Óscar Pareja, but there was also an ownership change with the Wilfs (Mark and Zygi, owners of the NFL’s MN Vikings) coming in as majority owners in 2021 — Have they had a noticeable effect at the club performance and supporter level or have the changes been isolated to the ownership level?

There has certainly been a shift around the club since the arrival of the Wilf family. There has been a concentrated effort to get input from the fans on the game day experience, and a lot of what fans said has resulted in changes being made to things like concession prices, concession offerings, season ticket member discounts, and special events. It’s also been noticeable in the team’s transfer spending. The offseason after the Wilf’s took charge coincided with a big spending spree that brought the arrival of guys like Facundo Torres and Martin Ojeda, and they haven’t been shy about opening the wallet to bring in guys who have become big contributors, or figure to become big ones.

It’s early in the MLS season but Orlando have a few CCC matches under their belt. What kind of effect has that schedule had on their MLS play? [Orlando City’s last MLS game was a 5-0 loss to Inter Miami at Chase Stadium on March 2.]
It’s never easy trying to balance games on multiple fronts, that’s something that we saw last season as the Lions struggled to really look cohesive while trying to walk the tightrope of CCC and MLS. Orlando has looked pretty darn good in Continental competition, blowing away Cavalry FC 6-1 on aggregate and looking plenty dangerous against Tigres earlier this week [March 5: Round of 16, Leg 1 of 2: 0-0 draw]. Things haven’t looked quite as good in league play, with the 5-0 hammering in South Florida being the result that stands out like a sore thumb. That was a game where Orlando got hit early, didn’t take a couple chances it had to get on the board, and got caught multiple times while chasing the game and playing uncharacteristically sloppy. Frankly, I don’t know if I’d even put that result down to trying to balance the two competitions, I think it was more a case of the Lions being uncommonly bad on the night.
Who are the key players Minnesota should be watching for? And is there anyone out that will change how Orlando plays?
Facundo Torres has been the main man for this team, and he continues to be the guy that frequently troubles opposing teams. Duncan McGuire has already opened his account after enduring a highly publicized transfer saga during the offseason, so he’ll be looking for good performances to keep European eyes on him. Other names to watch include new signings Nico Lodeiro and Luis Muriel, as well as the aforementioned Martin Ojeda, who has had a good start to the season. The team currently has a clean bill of health *knocks on wood* but it’s tricky to say if/what guys will be rotated ahead of a huge trip to Tigres next week.
What are your expectations for Saturday (lineup, score) and for the season ahead?
My guess at the lineup is far from gospel, as I expect to see some measure of rotation, but here’s what I think we’ll see:
Pedro Gallese; Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, David Brekalo, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson; Cesar Araujo, Felipe, Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, Nico Lodeiro; Duncan McGuire.
For a score prediction, I’ll say 2-1 Orlando, with some of the names Minnesota has missing giving the Lions an edge.
As far as season expectations go, the East looks like it’ll be TOUGH this year. That being said, on paper Orlando has a strong and experienced squad, and I’d hope this team can finish in the top 4 of the conference and make a run in the postseason. In terms of CCC, if the Lions can get past Tigres then they should have a good shot of at least reaching the semis, although Columbus and Houston would both be very tough outings.

Orlando City SC vs MN United FC kicks off at 6:30 PM CST. As always, follow Northland Soccer for live updates throughout the match and, for insights from Orlando’s ground, check in with our counterparts at The Mane Land.


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