The Columbus Crew is on a tough skid of two straight losses and no wins in three matches. Saturday, the Black & Gold host an Orlando City SC club that’s undergone changes both on the field and in the owner’s chair.
To prepare for the matchup, Massive Report spoke with Ben Miller from The Mane Land, SB Nation’s site that covers all things Orlando professional soccer to learn more about the Lions and a little bit about Orlando City B from the MLS NEXT Pro league, who Crew 2 will face Friday night.
Massive Report: Orlando City came into this season losing the team’s three best players in Nani, Daryl Dike and Chris Mueller. Since then, Orlando’s beaten top teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy and surprise contenders in the Chicago Fire. On the other hand, the Lions lost 2-1 to FC Cincinnati. Which Orlando City is the real Orlando team we should watch out for in 2022?
The Mane Land: I think it’s probably more towards the positive end of the spectrum, although by no means are things that cut and dry. The good news is that Orlando’s offense has started to look more cohesive after basically adding three new players in the offseason, considering how little forward Alexandre Pato played in 2021.
It’s taken some time for things to gel and while the offense isn’t the finished product, things are looking better. The big question will be if the defense can play at a consistently high level with defender Antonio Carlos set to miss 3-4 months with a hamstring injury. For now though, the team has shown enough to warrant a healthy amount of faith and goodwill.
MR: Forward Ercan Kara came in to fill Dike’s boots up front. He scored his first goal of the season against Chicago last week but he’s been started fairly inconsistently. Does he look like the striker for the future or are there others Crew supporters should look out for in the No. 9 position?
TML: Kara definitely has quality. One goal and two assists through seven games isn’t setting the world alight, but he dealt with an injury in preseason that hindered his ability to spend valuable time acclimatizing to new teammates and surroundings. Plus, as I mentioned above the offense as a whole is still getting used to each other. The hope is that getting that first goal will mean he starts knocking them in more regularly, and I think he has the talent to do so.
That being said, Crew fans should keep a close eye on Pato. He’s easily looked like the Lions’ most dangerous attacker so far and has two goals and two assists in six appearances. He sees passes no one else on the team does, his footwork is great and he just looks like a different class of player. Don’t be surprised if a lot of Orlando’s good moments involve him.
MR: Since the Wilf family purchased OCSC and the NWSL’s Orlando Pride the future has been up in the air on which way this team will go. On the women’s side, it looked like a fire sale. What’s the pulse on how it will go for Orlando City? How are supporters feeling about the new ownership?
TML: The good news is that the Wilf’s don’t seem to be afraid of spending money. Midfielder Facundo Torres was bought for a team record fee and Kara was also brought in as a Designated Player. That in itself is a good thing, and the Wilf’s definitely have deeper pockets than previous ownership.
Outside of that though, the club has already shown a willingness to be more receptive to the voices of the fans. Originally, no preseason matches were going to be open to the public, but after fans expressed disappointment and The Mane Land’s Dave Rohe wrote a piece talking about the missed opportunity, the club listened.
Dave met with newly hired President of Business Operations Jarrod Dillon, and talked about things ranging from creating a better tailgating experience to having preseason matches open to the public, and it was wonderful to have the club respond to fan concerns.
Just last week it was originally announced that Orlando’s U.S. Open Cup match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies would be played at Osceola County Stadium, where Orlando City B plays its games. Fans expressed disappointment that a game against a rival from Orlando City’s USL days wouldn’t be at Exploria Stadium, and on Monday it was announced that the game had been moved to Exploria. Things like that matter, and its nice to feel like the club is engaged with what fans want. The short answer is that so far, the vibes are good.
MR: This weekend features not one but two matches between the Crew and Orlando City. Each team’s MLS NEXT Pro team starts the weekend on Friday at Historic Crew Stadium. Who should supporters watch for when the second division sides face off? Do you see anyone playing a part in both matches?
BM: For Orlando City B some names to watch are Jack Lynn, Moises Tablante, and David Boccuzzo. Lynn is the Lions’ first-round MLS SuperDraft pick from 2022 and scored some goals with the first team during preseason.
Tablante and Boccuzzo each got on the scoresheet in a 2-2 penalty shootout win over NYCFC II. I doubt anyone will play in both games, as no one has done so yet this year and Orlando City is in a good place on the injury front aside from defender Antonio Carlos