The Columbus Crew has officially hit the team’s first snag of 2020 after losing at home to the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night after a draw and loss on the road. The good news is that the Black & Gold have a short turnaround time as they face off with Eastern Conference rivals Orlando City this Sunday.
This match has particular significance at the top of the Eastern Conference as the two sides find themselves separated by only one point and only a short distance away from the top of the table Toronto FC. This fixture has provided some fireworks in the past, so let’s take a look at what to expect in this East showdown Sunday afternoon.
Orlando City at a glance:
League Form: D-W-D-W-W
Record: 8-6-2 (30 Points)
Leading Scorer: Chris Mueller (7 goals)
Assist Leader: Chris Mueller (5 assists)
Player to watch: Chris Mueller
At the risk of being too obvious, it is needless to say that Mueller is having a breakout year in Orlando as he leads the team in both goals and assists and has been a huge part of why OCSC find itself near the top of the table thus far in 2020. The sixth overall selection in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft is beginning to replicate the production he had previously shown at the University of Wisconsin that warranted such a high draft selection.
Typically playing as a wide right midfielder, Mueller possesses both the speed and technical ability that this position requires. Mueller has become a key part of Orlando City’s game plan as the team looks to isolate him for 1 v. 1 matchups with its opposition defenders, as well as looking to play dangerous through balls for Mueller to run on to.
In addition to this, Mueller is known for being a fantastic finisher and often converts the chances he is presented with. Mueller did not play for Orlando this past Wednesday against Atlanta United and will have fresh legs to face the Crew this Sunday. Mueller will certainly be a focal point for the Columbus’ backline heading into this matchup.
How Orlando City Play:
Orlando has completely revamped its playing style under Oscar Pareja who is in his first year at the helm of the Lions. In the past, Orlando was often a direct team that looked to move the ball quickly into the opponents’ half and try to create opportunities from there. However, under Pareja, OCSC has completely changed its identity.
Thus far in his tenure, Pareja has employed a much more attractive style of soccer, focusing on possession and moving the ball through the defensive, middle and final thirds of the field. This move has paid off for Pareja, as Orlando City has scored 28 goals so far in 2020, good enough for fourth in the league and the best in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando chooses to do this by pushing their outside backs high up the field to create a numerical overload in the middle third and to allow the wingers (typically Mueller and Nani) the chance to be more free flowing in their movement. This causes problems for the opposing defenders as there are many dynamic players moving into different areas and seemingly every area of the pitch is occupied by an Orlando City player.
In addition to this, by moving the ball so effectively up the field, Orlando greatly increases the distance that the team’s opposition must go to score, which increases the amount of time they have to win the ball back.
Also, Orlando has established itself as a good defensive side largely due to the team’s organized press. Typically against teams who are possession-based, OCSC tries and apply pressure to the opponents high up the field to try and win the ball back as close to the attacking goal as possible. When OCSC is able to apply this pressure successfully, the team can not only win the ball in dangerous areas but also pin the opponents in their own half making it difficult on the opponent both offensively and defensively.
How the Crew can win:
To say this is an important match for the Black & Gold would be a gross understatement. The Crew has sputtered recently as the team is winless in its last three matches and just lost at home for the first time in 2020. This drop in form could not have come at a worse time as the MLS schedule heats up including seven matches between now and Nov. 8. In addition to this, the Black & Gold are facing some of the best teams in the East during this stretch.
Due to this daunting stretch of games, in terms of sheer quantity and the quality of opponents, the Crew needs to get back to winning ways and there’s no better time to start than this Sunday against OCSC.
As mentioned previously, Orlando City is a side that values the ball and values its possession in each match. Similarly, the Black & Gold typically have a big focus on having and retaining possession of the ball in their gameplan. As each side has a huge emphasis on maintaining possession, naturally whoever is able to control possession will hold a massive advantage over the other.
If the Crew is looking to do this, the team will need to be much sharper in possession of the ball then this past Wednesday night. In order to do this, Columbus will need to help itself by having much better first touches or receiving passes as well as the actual passing of the ball. At times on Wednesday night, the Black & Gold were very sloppy in possession. By misplacing passes and poor reception of the ball, the Crew made it much harder for itself against Montreal and will no doubt do the same against Orlando if the team doesn’t improve in this area. If they do, however, they will put themselves in a great position to maintain control of the game and make Orlando defend for long stretches of the game which is something they are not used to doing.
In addition to this, the Crew has to be very good defensively on Sunday night. A side with as much quality as Orlando has, there will be times where Columbus is required to defend for long stretches of time in this match. When defending, the Crew will have to be very precise in their defensive movements and communication to effectively eliminate opportunities for Orlando City.
Furthermore, the Black & Gold will have to continue to be effective in winning the ball back from Orlando. When the opportunity presents itself and the Crew is looking to win the ball back, it could potentially pull the team out of their defensive shape. Thus, when the Black & Gold to win the ball, they need to be certain that they will win it. The Crew must also be effective in clearing the ball when necessary. This is something that Columbus is typically effective at but has had some lapses in recent games in this area. If the Crew does a poor job in clearing the ball on Sunday, the team will almost certainly present OCSC with dangerous attacking opportunities.
As the MLS regular season rolls on, the Crew needs to get back to winning form fast. If the Black & Gold are able to effectively dominate possession as well as defend OCSC well, they will put themselves in a great spot to get back in the win column. If not, they may struggle against one of the best sides in the Eastern Conference.