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Crossing the Touchline: Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City SC

What’s gone on with Orlando since the early April meeting with Crew SC?

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been paying attention to Orlando City SC this season, you know it’s been a strange ride.

The Lions have one of the most feared attacks in the league with striker Cyle Larin, playmaker Kaka and midfielder Carlos Rivas, plus Giles Barnes, who came over in the offseason. Jason Kreis has since added former Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer and Designated Player Yoshimar Yotun.

With all that firepower, many expected more than 30 points through 24 games, but that’s where OCSC stand, eighth place in the Eastern Conference with one win in the club’s last 10 matches.

That’s the Cliffs Notes version.

In advance of Orlando hosting Columbus Crew SC on Saturday night, we turned to our friends at The Mane Land to go a bit more in depth on the Lions, who will play the East clash without Kaka (suspension) or center back Jonathan Spector (injury) although may get Dwyer back after minor facial surgery.

Here is what The Mane Land’s managing editor Michael Citro had to say on OCSC.

Questions for The Mane Land

Massive Report: For Crew SC fans who don't watch the rest of the league regularly, could you give a short breakdown of how Orlando's season has gone since these teams met in Columbus back in April?

The Mane Land: It’s been a weird season for Orlando City. The Lions were in the Supporters’ Shield position at the end of April, with the loss in Columbus being the only blemish on the club’s record. Since then, the team has, to put it bluntly, spiraled into a giant flaming dumpster. Orlando has managed only two wins since the end of April, dropping points from a winning position far too often during that span. The club has had some excellent performances, such as a 0-0 draw against Chicago Fire while down two men, a road draw at Seattle, and a 2-0 win over D.C. United.

The team has been suffering all season from personnel problems, with Jason Kreis playing a 4-4-2 with three (!) defensive-minded midfielders. The offense has, as a result, been pretty bad and uncreative. There’s just been no help for Kaká, who teams have marked out of games, choking off service to the strikers. Cyle Larin went into a slump and then, of course, had his DUI and is only recently starting to look like he’s rounding back into form. Carlos Rivas was always inconsistent offensively.

Now the team has taken actions to help the offense, adding Dom Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotun, and Dillon Powers. But Jason Kreis has not yet had all the bullets for his gun. Yotun and Powers just arrived as Dwyer underwent surgery on his nose for a hit in a game at Altanta. Now that all three newcomers should be available, Kaká got the world’s most ridiculous red card for joshing around with New York defender Aurelien Collin – his good personal friend – to try to cool tensions during a scrum (it worked, but the league doesn’t care about the spirit of the rules, only the letter of the law – you touch a face, you’re sent off). It’s really been one thing after another.

MR: Cyle Larin has been a terror in this league over his first two seasons. This year he's sitting on nine goals (which certainly isn't anything to sneeze at), but has only one finish since returning from suspension in late June. What's going on with the Canadian?

TML: As I touched on above, the service to Larin has been effectively choked off by Orlando’s opponents in many games, due to Kreis’ choice of playing a trio of defensive midfielders – Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, and Will Johnson – with Kaká in a 4-4-2 formation. Higuita is a fine breaker-upper of play and he’s your man for a high passing percentage on square balls and back passes but if you get him into the final third he is simply out of his element. Nocerino is a box-to-box guy who seems to have a soccer IQ beyond most of his teammates and his infrequent runs into the box are usually ignored by the man with the ball (often Higuita). Johnson is the only one of the three DMs who can jump into plays and get into good spots but he’s more of a distributor than a scoring threat.

All of that has led to Kaká getting extra attention from the opposing midfield and defense. Since Larin isn’t the kind of striker who can dribble through defenders or set up his own shots, he’s been stranded on an iceberg up top. Rivas, his strike partner, plays much more like a midfield winger than a forward. Rivas seems allergic to getting deep into the penalty area, choosing to peel back and send in crosses or stick to the outside channels of the box wide of goal. Without service, Larin is ineffective, and he hasn’t been getting service. I also think the suspension and shame of his DUI has affected him mentally but he’s been showing signs of shaking it off and returning to form.

MR: No Kaka this week for Orlando. Does this help or hurt the team given he's not had the impact of previous years this season?

TML: It hurts the team, in my opinion. Kaká still has moments of brilliance in every game and he’s got four goals and five assists, so he’s one of the few contributors to offense that the team has had this season. If Rivas was more clinical, Kaká could have twice that many assists, honestly. He had a good connection with Yotun in the Peruvian international’s first game last week and I’d like to see that continue to develop but it’s going to have to wait a week.

Despite the team scoring much less in 2017, Kaká’s assist pace is ahead of 2015, even if his goal scoring is slightly down. This is a bad thing for Orlando City, although it may be a good thing for Dillon Powers, who might see his Orlando City debut in the midfield.

MR: Ten games remain for OCSC and the team is current five points back of the final MLS Playoff spot. Do you see City making the postseason in 2017? If so, why? If not, what will be the reasons the team fails?

TML: I think it’s possible but time is certainly running out. Orlando must go on a run and we’ve seen no sign that can happen since April ended. The Lions’ lack of offense has stressed the defense more and more as the season has gone on and just falling behind by a goal seems an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. Leads never seem safe because I can’t even remember the last multiple-goal advantage the club has had.

All that said, the club did address its areas of greatest need in the summer transfer window. If Yotun, Powers, and Dwyer can gel with the incumbent players enough to add that extra bit of firepower, the team could certainly start winning some of these close games rather than drawing or losing them. But that’s difficult too right now with Jonathan Spector – the team’s defensive leader – sidelined with a knee injury for at least another week or two. I will say that if Orlando City doesn’t beat Columbus Saturday, it’s going to be extremely unlikely the team can make the postseason.

If you would like to read Massive Report’s responses to The Mane Land’s question, give their Intelligence Report a read.