This weekend Columbus Crew SC welcomes in the undefeated Orlando City SC to MAPFRE Stadium. There is plenty to be excited for in Central Florida with City. The Lions welcomed in some excellent players like midfielder Will Johnson and defender Jonathan Spector and opened up a beautiful new soccer specific stadium. In addition Cyle Larin is looking poised to have an explosive season.
All was well in Orlando until the 11th minute of the season opener when playmaker Kaka got tangled up with Andrea Pirlo. As a result, the former World Cup winner is out until at least mid-April with a hamstring injury.
OCSC had been playing a flat 4-4-2 in 2017 with Kaká on the field. For this weekend’s match, some personnel changes are expected, as they will have a true right back available for the first time in the season, but that shouldn’t make head coach Jason Kreis change the system.
For the purposes of this piece, we are going to look at the Orlando attack minus Kaka.
Different from last week’s opponent, Portland Timbers who tend to overload the center of the field, Orlando attacks mostly using Matias Perez Garcia and Giles Barnes on the wings. As these two play inverted, it is likely that they eventually cut inside to their strong feet. That should demand Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter to make small adjustments on the 4-2-3-1 system the team used last Saturday against the Timbers such as having Harrison Afful full time on the right flank instead of dropping to the middle so frequently.
Wil Trapp will be called into duty to shield the back line from the Lions’ attack. City rely on getting the ball to Larin as frequently as possible. Kreis’ men attempt to get the ball to him through a series of quick-hitting passes or serve it into the penalty box. Trapp will be asked to steer Larin away from the box or take him to the wings in order to pose a lesser threat.
Up front, Larin has been lethal so far, scoring all of Orlando’s goals in 2017 and all of them with a single touch on the ball. The Canadian striker is one of the most dangerous finishers in the league and it is fundamental that Jonathan Mensah, if healthy, and Nicolai Naess do not allow him any space inside the box. Carlos Rivas is a different kind of player whose pace could be used to create chances as he did on the Lions’ first goal against the Philadelphia Union.
Designated Player Giles Barnes has filled in nicely for Kaka since subbing in during the first match. Barnes was acquired for Brek Shea shortly before the season began and the Lions are reaping the benefits. Barnes is a dynamic player who likes to dribbles on longs runs and has a tremendous ability to hold onto the ball. Barnes also possess the ability to get excellent crosses into the penalty box and this bodes will for Larin who thrives in the air.
Don’t be fooled by Barnes, who is in no way a single dimensional player. The Jamaican international also possesses an excellent shot from distance and can keep the opposition guessing. The Columbus midfield will have to be on their toes when Barnes has the ball. Expect Artur and Harrison Afful to not let Barnes out of their sight.
Danny Toia and Whom?
Orlando’s full backs — Donny Toia on the left and either Kevin Alston or Scott Sutter on the right — are mostly defensive-minded players, so they shouldn’t be much of a threat. Will Johnson has also seen time at right back, and isn’t shy about pushing up field to support the offense. No matter who starts at the right back position, they can shut Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram down if on their game.
Johnson and Nocerino
Veteran midfielders Will Johnson and Antonio Nocerino might pair for the first time to shield the Lions defense, and even though both of them are proven players, they may lack some chemistry. That could leave space for Federico Higuain to thread through balls to Ola Kamara, who could take advantage of Jose Aja’s limited mobility, or Finlay and Meram on inside runs.
Making stops in Portland, Toronto and now Orlando City Johnson is a proven leader that this squad can rely on. He has worn many hats so far in this young season. Jason Kreis has experimented with Johnson, even putting him in the right back role early on in the 2017 campaign. Johnson can create some serious offense for the team, but his chemistry will come into question as he is expected to pair with Nocerino for the first time this season.
One of the players who has been very impressive for Orlando is Jonathan Spector. The 31-year-old defender came from Birmingham City and has made quite the impact for the Lions.
Spector can be seen as an emotional and physical leader for this Orlando City squad. He has been quick to react and aid his teammates when needed. There have been a few occasions when he has bailed out his goalkeeper, Joe Bendik, by aiding in a few spectacular goal-line clearances. Spector and Aja make a great pairing at the back for Orlando and they do a nice job of protecting Bendik.
When Kaka went down in Week One many thought this could spell disaster for OCSC The Lions have done an excellent job of picking themselves up and soldiering on this season. Many players stepped up to fill a role that was thought couldn’t be and they have an undefeated record because of it.
They will put that record on the line Saturday in Columbus against a Crew SC team who just ended another undefeated side last week. Can history repeat itself?