Oh, look. It's Orlando City SC again.
Meeting for the fourth time this season (one matchup came in the U.S. Open Cup), Columbus Crew SC has sparked a nice little rivalry with the expansion Lions in 2015. This is the last time the two will see each other this year, barring a playoff matchup. Right now, Columbus is trying to steady itself and remain a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando is trying to make sure it makes the playoffs (currently on the outside looking in, though tied on points for the final berth).
The Black & Gold are coming off a meltdown-y 3-3 draw with Toronto FC, while Orlando City played Sunday in one of the most entertaining games of the MLS season, a 5-3 loss to New York City FC that featured little defense by either side.
Going into Saturday's matchup, both clubs know each other well. So where can an advantage be gained? Here are a few things to watch.
(Side note: It doesn't seem likely that Columbus' new signing, right back Harrison Afful, will be ready to play in this game. The same goes for Orlando City's pair of pickups from this week — Swiss midfielder Adrian Winter and Spanish defender David Mateos.)
Get in the pocket
Orlando City's defensive midfielders have been pretty good this year, especially Darwin Ceren (who I think is under-appreciated outside of the Disney city). The team, however, has shown a vulnerability in behind those D-mids. Crew SC has to find ways to get into that pocket in front of the defense and behind the midfield. That will mostly be a job for Federico Higuain and Justin Meram (assuming he starts on the left). Sacha Kljestan exploited that space two weeks ago in a 2-0 New York Red Bulls win, and NYCFC did so this past weekend as well. Not only can Columbus get shots off from that area, but quality movement there can discombobulate a defense that's not been outstanding, and whose centerbacks are not known for being fleet of foot.
Get in transition
I know that the Crew SC game plan is to possess, but it has to get in transition quickly every opportunity it has. The Lions have struggled against the transition attack, and were absolutely hammered by it last week in New York. It helps when Andrea Pirlo is starting that transition and David Villa is finishing it, but Columbus can do the same thing. Will Trapp has yet to see the purple guys this season; one of his strengths is smooth transitions, so with Ethan Finlay's speed on the right there's no excuse to not be able to test OCSC in this way.
Be prepared for anything
Orlando head coach Adrian Heath has used a lot of similar personnel throughout the season, but occasionally has tweaked things just a bit. Last week — despite Heath's absence due to suspension — that tweak came in the form of a 3-4-3. NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis admitted at half time that he was not ready for that and it showed. But he made adjustments at the half and pulled away. It was the first time the team had played a 3-4-3 — or three in the back at all — all season, though it was essentially a weighted 4-3-3, with Corey Ashe (a fullback) on the left of midfield playing relatively deep and Aurelien Collin spending much of his time near the right touchline.
Honestly, it might be worth a try to do something similar against Crew SC. The team has struggled against pressure up the field, and can cough of the ball in the midfield. With the way that Meram plays, as an inverted winger on the left, the 3-4-3 could match up well. Of course, it removed A.J. Ramos from the field, who has been a big part of the Orlando City attack, and Columbus has better defensive midfielders than NYCFC to help cope with the shift in attack. I don't know that we will see that formation again, but Columbus needs to be ready for anything. Berhalter can't get outmaneuvered tactically.
Does form matter?
I know that fans can get all gloom and doom pretty quickly, and last week's result was definitely not something to be taken lightly, but the reality is that Crew SC has taken just one loss in its last eight games and currently sits second in the Eastern Conference. That's pretty good. So let's tap the brake pedal just a notch on the panic mobile. (Discussion of whether this team is good enough to make a run in the postseason is a different story)
Orlando City, meanwhile, drew with CCSC during the Lions' best stretch of the season. Lately, though, their form has not been as good. Orlando has no wins in its last four games and just one in its last six.
Columbus is looking at a stretch of three games that are very winnable. Yes, the next two are on the road, but at some point that has to stop being an excuse. Orlando City, Colorado and New York City (back at MAPFRE Stadium) are all beatable opponents. If the Black & Gold can bottle their performance from the first half of last week's game, they could be poised to bring home all nine points during that stretch.