Here we go folks, MLS Decision Day 2022 is here and the Columbus Crew has everything to play for. After another blown lead on Wednesday night against Charlotte FC, the Crew enters the final day of the Major League Soccer regular season needing at least a point on the road against Orlando City SC to secure an MLS Cup playoff spot in 2022. Orlando needs to take three points from this match to control the team’s destiny to the playoffs.
This means each team has it all to play for on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know.
Orlando City at a glance:
League Form: L-L-W-L-L
Record: 13-6-14 (45 Points)
Leading Scorer: Ercan Kara (11 goals)
Assist Leader: Facundo Torres (8 assists)
Player to watch: Facundo Torres
Torres was the marquee signing for Orlando City this past offseason and has had a huge impact on Orlando City this season. The 22-year-old Uruguayan has contributed eight goals and eight assists so far this year and has been in great form recently.
Typically operating on the left wing, Torres’ vision and on-ball quality have set him apart so far in 2022. Torres has been on a tear recently with four goals and four assists in his last 10 matches.
If The Crew is going to be able to get the result they need from this match, the Black & Gold need to shut down Torres for 90 minutes.
How Orlando City Play:
Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja is in his third year at the helm and has been successful in his time in Orlando. Pareja has used his experience with both FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids to adapt his playing style to be successful in MLS and be molded to the qualities of his players.
Under Pareja, Orlando places a big emphasis on keeping possession of the ball, while also being able to dangerously attack in attacking transition. When in possession, it is common to see Orlando shift from a 4-3-3 shape into a 3-5-2 shape. This is usually achieved by the team’s right back, typically Ruan, pushing high up the field and the right winger tucking inside to accommodate their central forward. This shape allows Orlando to have flexible passing options as well as multiple dangerous players in the central areas of the field.
Defensively, Orlando often shifts between a high-pressing team that presses all over the field and a team that will wait for the ball to be played wide before applying said pressure. Regardless of which strategy they adopt, the Lions are typically an organized defensive side that are difficult to break down.
How the Crew can win:
The Crew needs a result from this match to get into the MLS Cup playoffs, but a win could play an important role in the playoff seeding as well. To get three points, there are a few things the Black & Gold need to do.
Columbus has struggled all year to defend crosses and the subsequent second balls after successfully clearing a cross. In fact, the last four goals the Crew has given up have been a direct result of their struggles in this area. It’s no doubt that opposing teams know the struggles the Black & Gold have in this area, and desperate teams, like Orlando, may look to pump in extra crosses in order to put Columbus in uncomfortable spots.
In order to successfully defend in these situations, the Crew back line and goalkeeper Eloy Room will need to be effective in their clearances/collections of the ball. Clearances that don’t successfully end the attack have been a problem for the Black & Gold all year long and have led to several goals against.
In addition to successful clearances, the Columbus midfield needs to do a better job of both winning the second ball off of these clearances and quickly closing down the opponent if they do not. At times the Crew can be too lax in applying pressure to the opposition in these moments and it has cost the team several times this year. However, if the Black & Gold can successfully defend these moments, Orlando will have a hard time creating chances.
When in possession, Columbus was very dangerous when counter attacking on Wednesday. While the Crew shouldn’t become reliant on counter attacks, the team can put pressure on Orlando with well-timed and executed counter attacks. The Black & Gold counter attack best when their wingers are able to carry the ball into space before passing to more creative players in Lucas Zelarayan and Cucho Hernandez.
If Columbus can do this efficiently on Sunday, the team will be able to pose a threat to the Orlando goal often upon winning possession back.