When these two teams last met, Columbus Crew SC and Orlando City were battling to stay in the MLS Cup Playoff race. Almost two months later and the situation remains similar as the two teams prepare to square off once again.
The Black & Gold sit eight points back of the final playoff spot and a loss in this contest may all but doom Columbus. The Lions sit in that final postseason slot and are looking to hold off the New England Revolution and D.C. United.
While the regular season is nearly complete, many Crew SC fans haven’t seen much of Orlando, so we turned to our sister site, The Mane Land, for information on Saturday’s opponent.
Questions for The Mane Land
Massive Report: When these two sides last met, Jason Kreis had just been introduced as head coach but wasn't on the sideline for the 2-2 draw in Columbus. Since he's taken over, how have things changed for the Lions? What is he doing differently and what has been the response to Kreis?
The Mane Land: The changes themselves haven't been drastic but the big improvement has been in the belief of the players. Some just weren't buying into what Adrian Heath was doing. Guys like Antonio Nocerino and Carlos Rivas seem to have grown immensely under Kreis. Tactically speaking, the team has retained its 4-2-3-1 shape for the most part, but Kreis has tinkered with playing Kaká on the wing more often and inverting his wingers so they can cut inside and shoot with their dominant foot. The team is doing a better job of getting more numbers around the ball in the offensive third. He's also improved the communication of the defense and central midfielders. The back line is still leaky at times, but the team defense looks to have improved a great deal, the game at LA Galaxy notwithstanding.
MR: Orlando City missed the MLS Cup Playoffs last year by just five points. The team currently sits one point above the New England Revolution for the final playoff spot. What would it mean for the franchise to make the postseason for the first time in just year two? Also, is the fanbase optimistic the team can qualify?
TML: It would obviously be huge for the city, the club, and the supporters if the Lions can stay above that red line and get into the postseason. From the first year in the USL, this club has been successful. The fans have come to demand and expect success, so last year was a bit eye-opening. Many believe that if not for a devastating series of injuries and a few unlucky breaks last season, Orlando City would have made the playoffs in Year 1. The fans are a bit more realistic this season about just how difficult it is to be successful in a league built on parity like Major League Soccer is, but everyone believes this team has enough talent to expect a postseason appearance. It's a matter of staying healthy, performing up to expected levels, and getting results. The team has left it late again this year, and missing Kaká for half the team's first 16 games dug a bit of a hole. The offense has been solid all season, so if the defense can just come together over the last six weeks of the season, the Lions should be playing postseason soccer.
MR: Put names like Kaka and Cyle Larin, guys all MLS fans know, aside. Who is the guy for OCSC that is important to the team, but just doesn't get the recognition deserved around the league?
TML: The easy name here is Kevin Molino, although the league is starting to figure out all about the Trinidad & Tobago international. He's second on the club in goals and should finish the season with double figures in both goals and assists. He plays the same short, quick-passing attacking soccer that Kaká favors, and the two complement each other very well. He's got good vision to play balls in for Cyle Larin up top and he has made the most of his chances in front of goal.
A guy who is known somewhat in the Western Conference is mid-season pickup Matias Perez Garcia. MPG was probably not being utilized in his preferred role while in San Jose, so he kind of looked like a bit of a DP bust out there. Like Molino and Kaká, MPG can play those quick, short passes that turn defenders inside out and create scoring opportunities. He's also been much better than advertised defensively. Those three have become the first-choice attacking midfield, with Brek Shea moving more into a super-sub role.
To read Massive Report’s answers to The Mane Land’s questions, head on over to their Intelligence Report