With two weeks remaining in the MLS season, Columbus Crew SC come into Sunday’s match against Orlando City hungry to secure a spot in the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs. Following a loss to the Montreal Impact, head coach Gregg Berhalter and his team continued training intensely this week in preparation for the upcoming contest despite missing key players due to international duty.
It hasn’t been a great season of soccer in Central Florida for the Lions. Since their last meeting with Crew SC, things have gone from bad to worse for Orlando City. Head coach James O’Connor and his squad haven’t tasted victory since July 15th against Toronto FC.
Before Wednesday’s match against Seattle, the Lions hadn’t scored a goal in five matches. Things aren’t going well in Orlando and the fans are becoming restless. Should the Lions claim victory and play the role of spoiler for Crew SC, that could provide some happiness on a drab season.
Orlando City at a glance
Leading Scorer: Dom Dwyer (13)
Assists Leader: Yoshimar Yotún (10)
Since the two teams last met in July, the Lions haven’t changed their approach on offense. You can read about the Orlando City attack in the scouting report we detailed earlier this summer.
Despite the struggles on offense, Dwyer can still hurt the opposition. It’s not uncommon for the Englishman to create dangerous scoring opportunities and put opposing defenses under extreme duress. Crew SC must restrict the touches that Dwyer receives in order to be successful on Sunday afternoon by collapsing on him and suffocating the service he gets out of midfield.
The transition game
Orlando struggle with transition defense, particularly if the opposition moves the ball up the pitch with tempo. It’s appears that the defense lacks any sort of communication and situational awareness when trying to get set on the counter. The opposition can exploit this by making dynamic runs towards goal and stretching the defense and forcing the Orlando players into quick decisions. If Crew SC execute the counter at speed and directness, the Lions likely will be fishing the ball out of the back of their net.
Crew SC midfielder Justin Meram called Central Florida home for six months and struggled during his time with Orlando. During his tenure, the 29 year old drew the ire of the Lions faithful and eventually made his return to Columbus. Meram has said he’s learned from the experience.
Meram has a track record of turning up in big games and playing with a chip on his shoulder. It isn’t unreasonable to think that Meram might create some magic on Sunday afternoon. Expect him to play aggressively and with purpose on Sunday as he looks to propel Crew SC over his old team and keep Orlando in the cellar of the Eastern Conference.
How Crew SC win
The Black & Gold will want to start start the game strong against a struggling Orlando side and test a terrible defense early and often. The Lions have allowed a league worst 72 goals this season and could provide a much needed spark for a struggling Crew SC offense. The best chance for Columbus to find the scoresheet will be to hit quickly on the counter attack.
Crew SC need to get the ball wide, move it around quickly, and force the Lions into difficult decisions on defense. Should Columbus follow this blueprint, it’s not unrealistic to think a ticket is punched to the playoffs on Sunday afternoon.