Nine games remain for Columbus Crew SC in the 2017 Major League Soccer campaign, and perhaps none more important than Saturday’s clash with Orlando City SC.
Both clubs are heavily involved in a heated playoff race but are tracking in completely different directions.
The Black & Gold put the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice last week, downing the Chicago Fire by a score of 3-1. Columbus got key contributions from Kekuta Manneh, Ola Kamara, and Justin Meram.
The defense, lead by rookie Lalas Abubakar, held steady after an early blunder against a stacked Fire squad that boasted the likes of Nemanja Nikolic, David Accam, and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Crew SC will look to continue its winning ways against Orlando City who have a game in hand on the Black & Gold. The Lions haven’t been able to enjoy the advantage, failing to make good on the opportunity. Orlando has one won just one of the team’s last 10 matches (0-5-4) and have been outscored 18-9 in that stretch despite adding star striker Dom Dwyer and Designated Player Yoshimar Yotún.
Lets take a look at the Lions and see what’s changed since the two teams’ last encounter back on April 1st.
Lions at a glance:
Goals Leader: Cyle Larin (9)
Assists Leader: Kaká (4)
One would think that possessing big names like Kaka, Cyle Larin, and Dom Dwyer that Orlando City should be on top of the world in MLS, but the fact is the Lions have struggled mightily offensively.
In their last three games, the Lions have produced 28 shots, six on target and generated just three goals in three games.
Orlando City acquired Dwyer on July 25th from Sporting Kansas City and many saw this as “the shot heard round the world” when it came to MLS transfers. Many pundits thought OCSC would become an instant powerhouse, while the opposite has occurred as Larin and Dwyer have struggled to get into an attacking rhythm.
In the team’s first three games as a pair, Larin has five shots, two on frame and two goals. Dwyer has only one shot to his credit since suiting up in purple for Orlando. This isn’t the type of production the Lions had in mind when acquiring the 27-year-old striker.
Orlando City boasts one of the most technically sound midfields in MLS. The team will be without Kaka on Saturday night due to a suspension, but that doesn’t mean that Crew SC can sleep on the Lions.
Head Coach Jason Kreis will look to have his men play with width and have his midfield set up the attack by utilizing long balls as Orlando looks to find Larin or Dwyer streaking down the field.
The Lions not only distribute well out of midfield, but have been known to let a shot or two go from distance. Perhaps no better example of this execution then Orlando’s game against Atlanta United at Bobby Dodd Stadium three weeks ago.
This attacking approach could be problematic for Crew SC if going with the 3-4-2-1 formation, especially if featuring Alex Crognale in the middle of the defense. History has shown us that Crognale is physically quite gifted, but if the attack comes quickly, he struggles to find his mark and a prime scoring chance can be generated for the opposition.
This will be something that the Black & Gold will have to be cautious about.
Orlando’s defense has been hot and cold this season, struggling to replace players after injury. It looks like the Lions could be in for some trouble as central defender Jonathan Spector is expected to miss two or three weeks after spraining his Lateral Collateral Ligament in training last week.
This could spell trouble for the Lions who frequently look to Spector as a defensive anchor in the middle of the pitch alongside Jose Aja. Orlando hasn’t faired very well against a fast counter attack this season and with Crew SC’s exceptional performance on the counter last week, this could be an area the Black & Gold will look to exploit.
How Crew SC Win
Look for the Crew SC to adapt the bend-but-don’t-break mantra for this match. Columbus will look to absorb pressure from the Orlando attack and hit back on the counter quickly. With Justin Meram finding his form and the Lions defense struggling against skillful attackers, this game could do wonders for the Black & Gold’s playoff hopes. Might we see Pedro Santos debut, and will the Designated Player give the Lions fits defensively?
Crew SC also pride itself on playing a heavy possession brand of soccer. Orlando struggles to maintain possession, often committing mental errors that result in turnovers. Without a quality player like Kaka in the center of the park, I could see it being a long night for the Lions.
However, this game isn’t going to be a walk in the park for Columbus. The Black & Gold will still be tasked with stopping Dwyer and Larin, and those are two of the strongest attackers in MLS. Despite their documented struggles, they could catch fire and propel the Lions to a win.
The Ghanian duo of Lalas Abubakar and Jonathan Menseh will be tasked with stopping the Lions’ duo and limiting their scoring opportunities. If Crew SC can hold tough defensively, maintain possession, and limit mental errors they will be successful Saturday night.