There have been so many low points this season for Columbus Crew SC, it might not be totally accurate to call last week’s home loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps the lowest. But it certainly is among them.
Now, with already dim playoff hopes even dimmer, the Black & Gold travel to take on Orlando City SC, a team desperately trying to cling to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Here are a few things to consider ahead of the matchup.
The Orlando City attack
The Lions have some attacking weapons, with a quartet of striker Cyle Larin fronting a group that includes Kaka, Matias Garcia Perez and Kevin Molino. It’s a group that’s scored at least two goals in each of the last three matches.
OCSC tends to work through a left-sided attack, with Kaka and MPG both capable playmakers who can interchange positionally. The team is fourth in MLS completing 79.5% of its passes, so expect to see the host work the ball when in possession.
Kaka’s expected goals + expected assists per 96 minutes is third among all starters in MLS, while Perez Garcia is fifth among all starters with .27 key passes per 96.
Larin is tied for fifth in MLS with 13 goals.
Orlando is third in Major League Soccer with 58% of their shots coming from inside the box, which is a product of its on-the-grass playmakers and the way the team utilizes Larin as a target.
We’ve seen some changes from Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter in recent weeks. Expect to see more against Orlando.
Last week’s 3-4-3 is documented here. Will it return this week? It seems unlikely against a different style of team. But there are plenty of questions.
The status of Federico Higuain is unkown, though it would seem unlikely he’s truly ready to play. Tony Tchani will miss the game due to a red-card suspension. Wil Trapp remains out due to a concussion. Where does that leave the center of midfield?
It may mean that Nicolai Naess returns to the defensive midfield we saw two games ago alongside Mohammed Saeid, or maybe Rodrigo Saravia gets a start, with either Justin Meram or Dilly Duka in the attacking midfield spot in Berhalter’s favored 4-2-3-1.
A win may do little to stave off what seems like the inevitable mathematical end to the club’s playoff hopes, but with fans unhappy and uninspired, it could do the team some good to put together some good performances late, both in terms of providing some hope for supporters as well as creating something to build on going forward following a lost season.
That begins with a fast start against Orlando City. The Lions have scored 10 goals inside the game’s first 15 minutes. On Sunday against the Los Angeles Galaxy, they managed within the first 20 minutes. Columbus has to come out with energy and move past last week’s showing or OCSC will punish it.
Put away chances
Duh. But it bears repeating. There’s no room for wastefulness. Orlando City allows 14.9 shots per game, which is the third highest number in the league. Combined with the Black & Gold’s drive for possession, and one would assume Crew SC will have its share of opportunities. It has to make them count.
If Orlando has time, it has the weapons to capitalize. Kaka and MPG are too talented to give them time to pick out passes. And Larin gets the ball off his foot incredibly quickly — one of his defining talents. If the defense is not in position to close on him immediately, he’ll rip a shot on goal.
CCSC will have more of the ball, but when it loses it defenders have to be in a position to step up to attackers and take away their time on the ball.
And the back line has to stay plugged in. Orlando City has scored on second-chance opportunities in each of the last two games and does a good job of getting second runners into the box to pick up loose balls.
What do you want to see?
It would seem valuable for Berhalter to use the last handful of games as a trial run, whether to try new things tactically or to get more extended looks at players who have not gotten the bulk of the minutes thus far. The team could benefit from extended runs from the likes of Christian Martinez or Saravia to determine how those players fit in long term.
But will that happen? What do you want to see? Would you be disappointed by seeing anything but a first-choice lineup until the club is mathematically eliminated from postseason play?
Let us know what you hope to get out of Saturday in the comments below.