It’s not been long since Columbus Crew SC and Orlando City last met at Orlando City Stadium. The two Eastern Conference sides meet again on Sunday in the second-to-last game of the Major League Soccer season for either team.
Since that last meeting, the two clubs have gone in different directions. While Crew SC was securing a playoff spot, Orlando was eliminated from postseason contention.
This game still means a lot though. The Black & Gold have the potential to move up in the standings and possibly earn at least one home game in the playoffs. The Lions have the chance to play spoiler, but also send Designated Player Kaka, who will not return next year, out on the right note.
Questions for The Mane Land
Massive Report: Three years of Orlando City, three years with no playoffs. Meanwhile New York City FC has become a power in the East and Atlanta United is in the postseason in year one. What is the feeling in Orlando about where this franchise sits right now and going forward?
The Mane Land: To quote Pete Campbell from Mad Men, not great, Bob. I think that fans are split about where the team is headed, based on whether or not they think Jason Kreis is doing a good job. The club was set up much differently than NYCFC and Atlanta United, but the original plan started out by going much too young and completely misusing at least two of the three Designated Players spots. Atlanta’s situation is fairly unique, owing to Tata Martino’s ability to get absurd players who many thought wouldn’t come to MLS. NYCFC struggled out of the gate like the Lions, but was much better after bringing in an influx of great players like Alexander Ring, Maxi Moralez, Ronald Mattarita, and No. 1 draft pick Jack Harrison.
Given that NYCFC and Atlanta United are the two teams OCSC fans hate most — followed closely by Red Bulls and your Crew — that doesn’t sit well with the Orlando fan base. The Lions, much like New York City were, have been hampered by an aging star player with a high salary, who really can’t keep up with the pace and rigors of this league. That is obviously changing with Kaká’s imminent departure. The team seems to finally understand what kind of players this league requires, with the additions of guys like Peruvian midfielder Yoshimar Yotun and Swiss-English fullback Scott Sutter. The makeover will continue this off-season and Kreis probably has until the All-Star break in 2018 to show that the team has made significant progress or his seat will become scalding hot.
Personally, I think things are moving forward in the right direction but I completely understand the folks who are frustrated at seeing two hated rivals be able to move forward more quickly.
MR: What should Crew SC fans expect from OCSC this weekend? Will Jason Kreis continue to roll out the big guns and play spoiler or is this a chance for some other guys to prove their worth for the Lions before next season?
TML: One thing I know about Jason Kreis is that he wants to win every game. He may give a couple guys a look but I expect the lineup to be largely made up of the players he thinks gives the team its best chance of winning. It’s entirely possible we see the exact same first-choice lineup, but maybe a guy like Richie Laryea gets an earlier substitution runout in the second half.
One younger player who could be in the lineup is Earl Edwards Jr. So far, Joe Bendik has played every minute in goal in his time at Orlando City. Edwards was one of the USL’s top goalkeepers in 2017 and has been Bendik’s backup since Josh Saunders underwent season-ending neck surgery. He’s earned an MLS start with his play and work rate this year, but Kreis only knows (see what I did there?) if he’ll get it in the final two games of the year.
MR: Kaka made it official this week that he would not be back with Orlando next season making this his final home game. What is his Orlando City legacy as his time comes to a close?
TML: I think his legacy with Orlando is that his presence gave legitimacy to the Lions early on. He helped this club build a huge following, not only in Central Florida but in his home country of Brazil and in places like the U.K., which has its own supporters group and multiple websites. He helped the club sell a metric ton of jerseys, t-shirts, and other merchandise, more than off-setting his league-high salary.
On the field, “Ricky” will likely be remembered for being oft-injured, although the facts don’t support that narrative. He’ll finish his time in Orlando having played in 75 of a possible 102 games and there were a few absences due to international duty along the way. His production was quite good for an MLS midfielder in 2015 and 2016 (nine goals, seven assists in 2015, nine goals, 10 assists in 2016). His most injury-prone year was 2017, and he’s still managed six goals and five assists. The first two seasons, Orlando City couldn’t win without him, but in 2017 the Lions couldn’t seem to win with him, so it was quite a turnaround. Some of that may be to having to get more from the attacking midfielder in a 4-4-2 as opposed to in the 4-2-3-1 the club ran during the first two years.
Ultimately, Kaká was a great ambassador and steward for the club, a pretty good player on the field — though just about everyone expected more from the league’s highest paid player — and the team’s first DP and captain. He’ll hopefully be remembered for what he was and not for what he wasn’t. Personally, I've enjoyed watching him these past three years. He simply sees things on the field that most MLS players don't and that was sometimes a source of frustration for him as he fed balls into areas where his teammates should go but didn't.
To read Massive Report’s answers to The Mane Land’s questions, check out their Intelligence Report.