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Complete preview for MLS week 27: Orlando City provide challenge for Galaxy

Why you shouldn’t underestimate Orlando City and more prior to week 27.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City SC play the LA Galaxy on Sunday on national TV to follow up their mid-week domination of the Montreal Impact. OCSC now hold the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and could be fighting to keep it after D.C. United face the Red Bulls earlier that day.

But as we learned recently, that won’t be the story of the night. Far from it.

If you’ve been living under a rock, the news broke that Landon Donovan would be coming out of retirement Brett Favre-style, and that he could *possibly* play against Orlando. All eyes will be on that, not as much on the Eastern Conference playoff scrap.

That scrap would be of interest for fans if not for Donovan’s bombshell, however, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on today, because I’m boring.

Just a couple weeks ago, we all thought that it would D.C. running away with the sixth playoff spot. Patrick Mullins was and is a crucial player; Luciano Acosta is quietly playing really well as a No. 10; and they were on a promising win streak. Orlando had just gone through a coaching change and were figuring things out.

It’s different now.

D.C. haven’t gotten worse; it’s just that Orlando have gotten better.

OCSC’s victory over Montreal showcased their above-average speed and creativity in attack, and their ability to find pockets of space in the final third even with Cyle Larin on international duty. They had two players in the starting lineup — Matias Perez Garcia and Kaka — who are really good at working with the ball in advanced areas and finding runners in the box, allowing space to open up in front of Montreal’s goal.

Carlos Rivas, who started at forward as Larin’s replacement, proved to be very good at taking advantage of the area allotted to him, and Brek Shea caused more problems for the Impact backline when he made himself another possible target in the box.

When attacking, Orlando often ended up taking this shape:

football formations

Shea could run through a channel or flare out wide to send in a cross and drag away Donny Toia. Perez Garcia could combine with Kaka in Zone 14, exchanging quick, one-touch passes just outside the box and eventually find a run from Rivas. The Colombian forward has his choice of where he wants to run. Antonio Nocerino’s hanging around as a possession option. Kevin Alston could overlap MPG and put even more pressure on a bunkered Montreal side.

It was well-worked from a tactical standpoint, so credit to Jason Kreis on that one. The defense also deserves some props, because Orlando couldn’t have pushed that high up the field if they didn’t have confidence in their backline, and they certainly did at Stade Saputo. They looked like a well-oiled machine.

This is what Donovan and the Galaxy will face on Sunday. It’s hard to tell whether this will continue — Orlando did it for only 90 minutes, with 40 of those minutes up a man — but I can at least tell you this won’t be a walk in the park for LA. Jeff Larentowicz is an aging foul-machine of a defensive midfielder and Giovani dos Santos is still learning how to play defense, so Daniel Steres and the Galaxy’s weakened backline will have their work cut out for them.

We’ll see how it goes.

Other notes:

— Columbus struggled last week in LA, but get some relief this week as they face floundering Vancouver at home. They are tied with the Fire and the Dynamo at the bottom of the league.

— Chicago are performing better than they have all season. They’ve found their shape and their style of play, and it’s resulted in good things. Michael de Leew, especially, has been great for them of late.

Toronto FC — who will be trying to get back into the Shield race — will travel to Toyota Park this week. The Fire have a great chance to play spoiler.

— FC Dallas and Colorado play on Saturday evening. Anything less than three points would be disastrous for the Rapids’ dying Shield hopes, while Dallas will look to extend their growing lead at the top.

Oscar Pareja will likely play at least a semi-weakened lineup with the US Open Cup final looming on Tuesday. Last time that happened, they were blown out 5-0 in Seattle.

— Another crucial Western Conference battle takes place later tonight: Portland and Real Salt Lake will collide at Providence Park.

RSL are hanging around in the Shield race and are slowly getting players back healthy, while the Timbers need as many points as they can get as they try to pull away from Seattle in the playoff battle. Watch RSL’s center backs and how Portland attack them, because Jamison Olave and Chris Wingert struggled in mid-week. Aaron Maund and Justin Glad remain sidelined.

— The first national TV game is Red Bulls vs. D.C. United from New Jersey on ESPN. NYRB are charging, but Alex Muyl and Mike Grella are out, so Jesse Marsch will lose his stamina-specialist and his skill-specialist.