Orlando preview: Knowns and Unknowns

Orlando preview: Knowns and Unknowns

BATTERY AWAY: Orlando City Lions, Saturday, April 12, 2014, 7:30 p.m., ESPN Wide World of Sports, Orlando, Fla.

WATCH AND LISTEN: Sports Radio 1450 AM / charlestonbattery.com via YouTube.com

WATCH WITH BATTERY FANS (and sometimes Battery players): The first Molly Darcy’s Battery Watch Party of 2014 starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Molly Darcy’s is at 235 East Bay St.

So if you’ve been wondering what to expect from Orlando City Lions as the Battery prepare for their first road game of 2014 after bye week, don’t waste too many brain cycles. You’ve seen this show before.

ORLANDO

Rob Valentino

Rob Valentino

In three games so far this season, Lions Coach Adrian Heath has rolled out the same look and dared opponents to beat it. A four-man back line led by two tall, strong center backs. A versatile five-man midfield that keeps possession. Former Red Bull and Whitecaps forward Corey Hertzog alone at the top. After about 70 minutes, attacking midfielder Adama Mbengue comes in off the bench, followed by dangerous forward Dennis Chin.

The only variation from this rotation? With former Defender of the Year Rob Valentino still nursing a calf injury in Week One, center back Justin Clark got the start and went 90 minutes. He hasn’t logged a minute since.

After drawing the Battery on Austin da Luz‘s 75th-minute equalizer back on March 22, the Lions gave up the lead to Pittsburgh in their home opener and had to settle for another 1-1 draw. Last week they caught Rochester napping in the third minute and went on to win 3-1 at home.

So there’s no reason to expect much different on Saturday. This is a quality USL PRO squad that wants to get ahead early and then wear down opponents with its swarming, ball-possessing midfield. But as the Battery and the Riverhounds have already demonstrated, home and away, teams that prevent the Lions from getting the initial lead can have success against this system.

Because as good as Hertzog and Chin can be, they don’t add up to the threat that Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer brought to the Lions last season. As the Lions gear up for their first year in MLS with many of the same players who have already signed MLS contracts, they look a lot more like a grind-it-out possession team than a high-scoring flying circus.

CHARLESTON

Colin Falvey

Colin Falvey

So while it would be a surprise if Heath changed his approach going into Saturday’s match, what Charleston will do is really anyone’s guess. Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser describes himself as “not someone who likes to invent too much stuff,” and he’s quick to point out that he’s not as deep on his back line as he’d like to be. But when it comes to the Battery front seven? Get your popcorn ready.

Here’s what we know (sort of). Colin Falvey and Shawn Ferguson start in central defense. Amadou Sanyang and Jarad van Schaik start in the central midfield.

After that, who starts and where is pretty much a function of health, form and whatever approach Anheuser take to a particular opponent. Because with the versatility of this young and developing team, the Battery’s XI has been able to morph in and out of 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 looks this season, all without changing personnel.

Here’s the other thing we know. Anhaeuser will use USL PRO’s five-sub rule to maximize the value of his deep bench in the second half. He used all five subs in the opener, with four off the bench against Richmond on March 29.

Mamadou Diouf

Mamadou Diouf

“What we do is still sorta milking through my brain a little,” Anhaeuser said Wednesday. “But you can go at it one or two ways. You can maybe put an extra defender in there, or an extra midfielder, and try to contain their passing and width. Or maybe (you) have a go at them.

“It’s kind of a two-way street. We’ve gone about it different ways. (But) right now the good thing is (forward Mamadou Diouf) is playing well. (Forward Heviel Cordoves) is getting in there. And now (forward Dane Kelly) is healthy, so we have that speed. (Fullback/winger Quinton Griffin) is with us. Colin is back. He wasn’t with us for the first game. So the good news is we should have a full nucleus of players.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Quinton Griffin

Quinton Griffin

ONE FORWARD OR TWO? In their March 22 match at Blackbaud, Anhaeuser showed Heath a starting lineup with Cordoves and rookie forward Adam Mena up top, and then repeatedly worked midfielder Zach Prince up the field in a set that often looked like an interchanging 4-3-3 in the first half. Charleston got the night’s first goal in the 65th minute, but gave up the equalizer and had to hold on as Orlando’s possession game wore the Battery down late.

So if the Battery take the field at ESPN Wide World of Sports Saturday with two forwards, look for something like what we saw in the first two home games. But if the team starts with a lone striker, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Taylor Mueller get another start at fullback, a move that could push Griffin up as a wide midfielder.

Charleston typically deployed in a defense-first 4-5-1 on the road last season.

Dane Kelly watched the first Charleston-Orlando match from the stands last month.

Dane Kelly watched the first Charleston-Orlando match from the stands last month.

DANE KELLY’S RETURN: Charleston’s pacey Jamaican forward went 45 minutes Tuesday night against Coastal Carolina and his coach declared him 100 percent fit, if not 100 percent sharp, after missing five weeks with a hamstring strained. He’s almost certain to play, but will he start?

In 2013, when the Battery lacked the depth at the position, Kelly was often the only true forward on the field for Charleston. Since he’s not a classic hold-up guy, that meant the Battery attack was often based on Kelly making runs while Nicki Paterson and Jose Cuevas tryed to get him the ball.

Which means that how Kelly fits into this year’s squad is going to be an interesting question. It’s only a guess, but it would make sense for him to start the game on the bench and enter the match late, when his speed and fresh legs could sting Valentino and 6-6 center back Brad Rusin.

Forward/winger Omar Salgado (foot sprain) won’t be making the Orlando trip, and after Mena missed part of this week’s training with back spasms, he’s not a great starting option even if he makes the traveling squad. That leaves Diouf, Cordoves and Kelly as the top three options at forward. Right now, Diouf looks like the best option as a lone striker, and Cordoves has proven his ability as a microwavable goal-scorer off the bench. But I seldom have much of a clue what Anhaeuser will do.

Though Orlando earned more set pieces on March 22, Charleston's Adam Mena came close to stinging them on free kicks twice.

Though Orlando earned more set pieces on March 22, Charleston’s Adam Mena twice came close to stinging the Lions off first-half set pieces.

SET PIECES: The good news is that this year’s Battery is an improved team with the ball in the air. In addition to their sneaky captain, Diouf, Mena, Ferguson and Sanyang are all dangerous aerial finishers. Jarad van Schaik, Prince and rookie Andre Lewis do a good job on corners and free kicks. And the club has generally done a good job defending set pieces, too.

The bad news is that in their first meeting this year, Orlando won 17 corner kicks. That’s four more corners than the Lions took in their other two matches combined. And with their tall center backs and veteran goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo leading their set-piece defense, it won’t be easy to sneak one in.

You could even say that Job One for Charleston will be dealing with Orlando’s ability to overload attacking zones and subject the Battery to set piece after set piece. But if Orlando loses concentration, a sudden goal off a set piece could be Charleston’s most direct route to its first victory in Orlando.

Corey Hertzog

Corey Hertzog

KEEPING COREY ON THE SCHNEID: Hertzog is a well-known player to Charleston’s veterans, and he’s a capable young MLS striker. But he’s yet to find the back of the net off 10 shots (five of them last week) this season. Only one of Orlando’s five goals has come from a forward (Chin).

The job of keeping Hertzog and Chin under control will fall to a central defensive unit that had some surprising letdowns against Richmond. Orlando is going to get its chances at home, but Falvey and Ferguson will need to own the center of the penalty area or it’s going to be a difficult night for their goalkeeper.

TOP IMAGE: Charleston forward Heviel Cordoves has become a regular contributor to this year’s team. The question is, will he contribute as a starter or off the bench when Charleston makes its first road trip of the year for Saturday’s match against Orlando City? Dan Conover photos.