It’s as must win as a game gets for the Columbus Crew as the Black & Gold host Orlando City SC in a midweek contest at Lower.com Field. The Crew has to earn all three points to leave no doubt the team can still make the MLS Cup playoffs and not be eliminated heading to D.C. United for its final road match on Saturday.
The Lions are on a five-match unbeaten run of late and have won its last five matches against Columbus, including a 3-2 victory in September at Exploria Stadium. Orlando is closing in on its second consecutive MLS Cup playoff appearance.
We talked to SB Nation’s The Mane Land staff writer Ben Miller to catch up on what has gone well for Orlando City of late and where the fans think they can finish in the MLS Cup playoffs standings.
Massive Report: Orlando City has certainly picked up its form of late with five straight matches unbeaten. What has been the key for the Lions to have this strong stretch at the end of the season?
The Mane Land: For one thing, the Lions have finally started to get healthy. The only starting caliber players who were unavailable for Sunday’s game against New England were Robin Jansson and Uri Rosell, although Andres Perea and Joao Moutinho are now listed as questionable while Rosell is still out. The team being closer to its best XI has definitely helped matters, and they’ve also cleaned up the disciplinary issues that plagued the team during its four game losing streak. Things still aren’t perfect, as the Lions have dropped four points from winning positions in their last two games, but its better than the losing streak for sure.
MR: Orlando looks to be in good position to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. How far do you think they can go?
TML: Frankly, unless Orlando figures out how to put away games from winning positions in the next 3 matches, I’m not super confident in the team’s playoff chances. The talent is most definitely there, and although Robin Jansson has been missed in the last two games, great teams find a way to win games once they go ahead. If Orlando makes the playoffs as a 2-4 seed I think they’ll win their first game but go out in the conference semifinals.
MR: Who has been the biggest breakout start for the Lions in this 2021 season?
TML: Truthfully no one automatically springs to mind but I’ll say its a tie between Benji Michel and Silvester van der Water. This is VDW’s first year with Orlando and amid an uneven year for Chris Mueller he has played pretty well. He isn’t starting week-in, week-out but he’s found his footing well in MLS and should replace Mueller well next season. As for Benji, this is his third season with Orlando and he has seen his usage rise this season and responded well with 4 goals and 3 assists. He provides excellent energy coming off the bench and has definitely grown since his first season back in 2019.
MR: Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
TML: As mentioned, Rosell is out and Raul Aguilera and Adam Grinwis are also listed as out. Moutinho, Perea, and Rio Hope-Gund are listed as questionable and Moutinho came off at halftime on Sunday. Robin Jansson isn’t on the injury report but was not in the squad on Sunday and was apparently suffering from a stiff neck, so we’ll see if he can go or not.
Assuming Jansson can go and Moutinho can’t, here is my projected XI:
Pedro Gallese; Emmanuel Mas, Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, Ruan; Sebas Mendez, Junior Urso, Mauricio Pereyra, Chris Mueller, Nani; Daryl Dike.
For a prediction I’ll go with 2-1 Orlando City.
Check out The Mane Land’s Intelligence Report with our answers about the Crew.