What to Watch For: Orlando City v. San Jose
What should you watch for when Orlando City take on the San Jose Earthquakes?
There will be Kaká
Kaká's resumé is almost without a peer amongst players active today. Individually, he won the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year. He's been on teams that won the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Serie A, and La Liga, competitions you may have heard of. Even if he's a man past his prime, at 33 years old, oh what a prime that was. And if the last few weeks are any indication, he still has some of that magic left to score from distance, glide past defenders, and pick a pass.
The man who will be tasked with marking him, Fatai Alashe, makes for an interesting contrast. 21 years old and all athleticism, with humble professional pedigree, this will be his first chance, by my reckoning, to show that he can keep a genuinely world-class attacking midfielder in his pocket. It'll be interesting to see if Kinnear sticks with his now-familiar 4-1-4-1, because that would force a choice between man-marking Kaká with Alashe (which would leave the pivot wide open for other attackers) or defending them like any other game. Once possible solution to look for is for Kinnear to dial the double-pivot look that he utilized early in the season, although this would of course create a positional dilemma farther up the pitch.
The real impact for Kaká will be on the fabled MLS "project." He's still wildly popular, particularly in his native Brazil, and seems all-in on the league. He cancelled his contract with Milan in order to move, and the best man in his wedding, Marcelo Saragosa, was a long-serving MLS player. It's one thing if he helps Orlando to success as a team; it's quite another if he uses his global popularity to give the league credibility beyond North American shores.
There will be #narrative
Lots of juicy storylines of the potentially unflattering variety. Prime on the list will be the huge numbers of empty seats that appear likely, not even in the upper bowl that will be closed off to restrict capacity. The Quakes signed a 5-year deal with the 49ers to play in cavernous, hotel-like Levi's stadium once a year, and there are rumblings that both sides are already starting to regret it. Part of the problem here is that to purchase tickets for the Manchester United friendly in July, fans were asked to purchase a package that included this Levi's match even if they had no desire to go. It's led to an embarassing inability to sell out, and for secondary market prices to be lower than primary-market ones. While the California Clásico seems to have found a nice home in Stanford Stadium, the Quakes front office needs to find a better way to utilize the last 3 years on its Levi's contract.
Mark Watson, who was the Quakes head coach for just a year before being fired last offseason, makes his return to the Bay Area as an assistant for Orlando City. While the average Quakes fan was deeply disappointed with the product he put on the field, he was a long-time assistant at the club during better yeras, and I can't imagine there is any bad feeling between the two.
There will be goals
...which is a good thing for Chris Wondolowski, who is sitting on a century. Orlando is both scoring and conceding goals at a significantly higher rate than San Jose. Goalkeeper Tally Hall returns from a long-term injury for the Lions, but the rest of the back line is unheralded. Aurelien Collin may have brought some star power, but he's out with injury for this one. Brek Shea moved up from left-back to left-wing, which may be fun for him personally, but is a head-scratcher in terms of his international future, and takes away from the stregnth of the defense. They've also found it difficult to put more than one good performance together in a row. Look for Chris Wondolowski to press hard for goal number 100, and not to stop pressing once he gets it. He has that goalscorer personality in his nature.
Going the other direction, Orlando is terrifying. Keyed by consummate playmaker Kaká, the Orlando attack has Brek to his left and number 1 draft pick Cyle Larin above him. Larin, a Canadian international and just 20 years old, is a powerful and explosive striker that rumor has it Dom Kinnear was targeting for a trade-up on draft day. He's already bagged 4 goals as a rookie. Their right-winger, Eric Avila, is a perfectly productive MLS player too. While the Quakes' recent defensive performances have been excellent, particularly at home, this will be a handful.