Columbus Crew SC play host yet again in June, closing out the month against Eastern Conference foe Orlando City SC. OCSC is a team that currently sits a mere one point ahead in the East standings. Orlando will visit MAPFRE Stadium Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Orlando City come to Columbus with a game in hand, having played 16 games compared to the 17 that the Black & Gold have completed. Orlando sits in ninth place in the East with 18 points, with the Crew trail by one with 17 points and in 10th. Both teams are sitting just outside of the playoffs, as Toronto FC holds the seventh and final playoff spot with 22 points. The Chicago Fire are in reaching distance with 19 points in eighth place.
You might have heard about the spectacular goal-of-the-season candidate that D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney scored on Wednesday night. If you didn’t then, well, it might be worth a YouTube search. Unfortunately for Orlando head coach James O’Connor, it’s what saw them lose not only 1-0 away from home but a crucial point which may go a long way in determining the playoff seeding throughout the remaining MLS season.
While Rooney has had their number this season, it was the second time the English striker scored against Orlando that now has him multiple candidates for Goal of the Year. It’s safe to say that both Orlando City and the Crew have suffered from ill-fated campaigns in 2019.
Orlando City SC at a glance
Leading scorer: Nani (8 goals)
Assists leader: Nani (4 assists)
Expected Starting Lineup
O’Connor prefers the generic 4-3-3 formation with a flat midfield so everyone can have their chance to push forward and have a say in the attack. The midfield gain and keep possession to allow the forwards to stay high up the pitch and are supported by the fullbacks.
This exact lineup was used on Wednesday versus D.C. United. More than likely, O’Connor will be forced to make a few minor changes to allow players to have a little extra rest for this post-U.S. Open Cup break. Assume Tesho Akindele to feature as their target-style striker up front. He’s their second-leading goal scorer on the season with five finishes. Chris Mueller is also a creative force out on the right side.
More than likely, O’Connor will choose to go with Oriol Russell in the midfield, who came on as a substitute against their previous encounter with United and gave solid minutes. Look for defender Alex DeJohn, an experienced center back, to replace one of the two from last week to help shut down the attack of the Black & Gold.
A one-man show?
Orlando City SC is led unquestionably by Manchester United veteran and Portuguese international Luis Nani, who has been everywhere this season for the Lions since his debut on March 2. He leads the team in both major offensive categories with eight goals and four assists.
Nani enjoyed quite the success with both United and Portugal, with a combined 259 appearances and 49 goals. In games that Nani has scored for Orlando this season, the Lions have a 2-1-1 record in MLS play. Unbeaten in three games when Nani scores, much of Orlando’s success is dependent on his play.
While he didn’t make the Portugal squad for the recent UEFA Nations League mini-tournament, he’s been behind the scenes, helping Orlando get primed for a second-half playoff push. If City comes into MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday and leave with a result, their success will undoubtedly depend on the performance of Nani.
How the Crew win
Head coach Caleb Porter has said it himself all week and it holds true if it can be attained. It’s been hard to translate onto the field, but the Crew will win simply if they can score the first goal. Porter has addressed the low percentage of wins the team has endured when conceding first.
Getting into the driver’s seat early in the remaining games is important for the Crew at this stage of the season. There’s a lot to play for for both teams and stakes are high. If Columbus can capitalize on a tired and defeated Orlando City team, they could very well begin a playoff push of their own.
It’s beginning to get into “that” part of the season for the Crew. A big issue this year has been the inability to put together a perfect game from start to finish. One game it’s good offense and poor defense. It’s also been vice versa. If Porter can help instill the right mentality into the players and get them to perform for 90 minutes, the Black & Gold will come in and leave with fans rather impressed for the road that lies ahead.