Teams like to say that the next game is always the biggest game. For the Columbus Crew, that is true going forward in the 2020 season.
The Black & Gold may have already secured a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs but are competing for seeding in the postseason. On Wednesday night, the Crew travels to face Orlando City SC, a side tied with Columbus in the Eastern Conference standings. A win in this game for the Black & Gold would secure at least a third-place finish in the East and set the team up for a chance to finish as high as first on Sunday.
Orlando has the same scenario and has this game at home. This means this one should shape up as an interesting affair.
Prior to the game, we reached out to Ben Miller of The Mane Land, our SB Nation sister site, to get a better sense of OCSC before this important match.
Questions for The Mane Land
Massive Report: Orlando has been one of the hottest teams in MLS going back to the MLS is Back Tournament with one loss in 15 games. What is it about this team that allows it to get a result pretty much every time out?
The Mane Land: Probably the team’s organization, especially defensively. The team has only given up 21 goals in 21 games, and only 3 teams in the East have given up fewer, with Columbus being one of them. Even when the Lions went through a barren run of not scoring more than once over the course of three draws and a loss, the team was still able to pick up points in three of those four games.
The center back pairing of Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos has been mostly excellent, and Pedro Gallese has been great in goal, with Brian Rowe doing a good job of deputizing when Gallese was away on international duty. That defensive solidity has been especially helpful after the Lions were hit with injuries to key starters like Ruan, Joao Moutinho, Uri Rosell, and Mauricio Pereyra. Even though the offensive firepower was blunted because of their absences, the defense did its job and helped Orlando stay in the hunt for a home playoff game.
MR: Nani is the big name in the Orlando attack that has yielded 36 goals for this season, but tell our readers about guys like Chris Mueller and Daryl Dike and their impact on the team this year.
TML: In his third year as a professional, Mueller has taken his game to another level. He has nine goals and six assists to his name, but his play beyond the numbers is simply better. He’s more dangerous and more efficient with the ball at his feet, makes the right decision more often, he’s stronger, and his range of passing has improved. I think its a crime that he wasn’t included on the MVP ballot, and if he isn’t included in the USMNT January camp I’ll be thoroughly upset.
Dike has had a huge impact on this team. Dom Dwyer was lost to a season-ending knee surgery during the summer and it wasn’t clear where goals were going to come from. Enter Dike. Yes he’s big and strong, but he’s more than a physical presence. He’s sneakily good with the ball at his feet, very fast, and a good passer of the ball with good vision of the field. He’s gotten better at making runs and pulling defenders away to create space and he has a vicious shot. Then, there’s obviously the physical side of his game. He’s more than capable of putting a defender on his back and holding up play, or dipping his shoulder, turning his man and driving at the defense. He’s been essential in Orlando remaining up near the top of the standings, and he’s another guy who’s been getting some very justified USMNT buzz.
MR: Orlando is in the playoffs and we’ll see where the seeding ends up. But what will be the minimum expectations for OCSC once the postseason begins?
TML: For me the team absolutely has to win a playoff game. Given how the Lions have played for most of the year, it isn’t enough to simply get in, OCSC has to make some noise once it gets there. Especially if the team gets a home game at Exploria Stadium. If the roster is healthy once the playoffs start then it probably isn’t unrealistic to set the bar at making the Eastern Conference final. If injuries continue to keep key pieces off the field then expectations may need to be tempered a little bit. At the very least, the expectation should be to advance past the first round.
To read Massive Report’s answers to The Mane Land’s questions ahead of the game, click here.