Orlando City SC will bring a blend of the familiar and the unknown when they face the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday (6 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
They may be newcomers to MLS, playing only their second game in the league, but the Dynamo met them less than two weeks ago in the Carolina Challenge Cup. The head coaches know each other well. And Orlando’s roster includes a couple of ex-Houston players and one of the most famous names in world soccer, Brazilian midfielder Kaká (above).
The 32-year-old former A.C. Milan and Real Madrid star will come to Texas with plenty of respect for the Dynamo after Owen Coyle’s side beat Orlando 3-0 in Charleston to claim the Cup.
“It was a hard game for us, the game was tough,” the 2007 FIFA world player of the year told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. “We could see how the team played, the philosophy of the coach, so we could prepare for this game understanding what they’re like… They have very good players, they’re in shape—we have to be prepared to beat them.”
Kaka scored with a deflected stoppage-time free kick last Sunday to earn Orlando a 1-1 tie with fellow Eastern Conference debutants New York City FC in front of more than 62,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl.
The playmaker is hoping his side produce a more polished performance against the Dynamo now that the drama and spectacle of their inaugural MLS contest is over. “It had a lot of emotion, the first game in the league,” he said.
“I know they’ve got very good players, I know they’re a very good team and there’s no getting away from a player of Kaká’s ability who could play probably in any league in the world,” Dynamo coach Coyle told reporters at Houston Sports Park. “So we’re very fortunate to have him in the league and Orlando are very blessed to have him in their team. He’s one of a number of threats that they have so we’ll be very respectful of the opposition, as we always are.”
College Station-born U.S. international Brek Shea also featured against NYCFC. The former FC Dallas player joined Orlando in the winter from English Premier League side Stoke City. Tony Cascio, who spent 2014 on loan with the Dynamo but suffered a serious knee injury in April, was an unused substitute.
Another name familiar to Houston fans is longtime Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall, who spent six seasons with the club before being traded last October. He is still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained against Sporting Kansas City last August. Also missing from Orlando’s lineup will be a defender who gave the Dynamo a few fierce battles down the years in SKC colors: Aurelien Collin, who is suspended after receiving a red card last Sunday.
During the 1990s Orlando’s English-born manager, Adrian Heath, played for Burnley, the club Coyle took into the EPL in 2009. The Scot is looking forward to welcoming him to East Downtown.
“I’ve always had a great rapport and a great relationship with him, he’s somebody I’ve got a very high opinion of, not only as a terrific football coach but as a man,” said Coyle. “He’s building a very good side with some outstanding players, it’s always nice when you play against your friends and people you like, but the important thing is—and he’ll tell you the same—that our focus will be on making sure our team is at the maximum to win a very tough game.”
Coyle doubts the Dynamo’s comfortable win over Orlando in preseason will have any bearing on Friday’s fixture, especially since the visitors were reduced to nine men, with the red cards helping turn what had been a close-fought encounter into a blowout.
Will Bruin opened the scoring after 27 minutes following fine work by Boniek García, then Brad Davis found the net from the penalty spot three minutes later after Collin was dismissed for a tackle from behind. Just before half time, García set up Leonel Miranda for the Dynamo’s third goal. Then Orlando substitute Carlos Rivas was ejected for a foul on Luis Garrido in the 64th minute.
With Coyle’s men now in the Western Conference, this is the only meeting between the clubs in the MLS regular season. The Dynamo will enter the match in buoyant mood after last Saturday’s season-opening 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC, secured with a superb second-half goal from Giles Barnes.
While giving Orlando’s attackers their due, Coyle is bullish about the Dynamo’s offensive potential and is looking for his side to create plenty of chances on Friday. “I’ve got exciting players, I’ve got matchwinners at this club and I want to make sure they’re in the best situation to go and show their talents,” he said.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.