The Columbus Crew return home on Saturday after a disappointing result on the road against the Philadelphia Union last weekend. A mistake from goalkeeper Eloy Room was the difference between the sides in that game. As the Crew looks to get back to winning ways, the Black & Gold face stiff opposition from Orlando City SC.
Orlando has been one of the trendy picks to be atop the Eastern Conference in 2022 and has delivered so far with 11 points from their first seven matches. The Lions have only lost twice and are coming into this match after defeating the Chicago Fire last weekend.
Here’s a look at what Orlando will bring to the table, how Columbus can win this game.
Orlando City at a glance:
League Form: W-L-D-W-L
Record: 3-2-2 (11 Points)
Leading Scorer: Alexandre Pato (2 goals)
Assist Leader: Alexandre Pato (2 assists)
Player to watch: Alexandre Pato
It feels very obvious to pick the player who has the most goals and assists on the team as the player to watch but this is done for good reason. While goals and assists alone don’t tell the whole story, Pato also has the highest average performance rating of any Orlando player through seven matches.
After struggling in his first year in MLS, the 32-year-old Brazilian is finding his form in his first full year in the league. Pato was once one of the most prized prospects in the world and has played for the likes of AC Milan, Chelsea and Villarreal, as well as the Brazilian National Team. Thanks in large part to an extensive amount of injuries, Pato never quite reached the heights many predicted for him. However, when he is healthy, Pato has all of the ability necessary to be an impact attacker in the MLS.
This year, Orlando has deployed Pato as both a central striker and a right winger. Even when on the right wing, Pato will often tuck inside to help The Lions create space on the right as well as a numerical advantage in the central midfield. This causes chaos for the defense and is a big reason for Plato’s success so far in 2022. No matter where Pato goes on Saturday, the Black & Gold will need to be fully aware in order to contain the Orlando attack.
How Orlando City Play:
Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja is in his third year at the helm and has helped transform OCSC into perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference. Pareja is no stranger to the MLS, thanks to stints with both FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids, and knows how to set up his sides to compete in every match.
Under Pareja, the Lions place 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 OCSC 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 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 is difficult to break down.
As you can probably tell, there are a lot of similarities in playing style between Columbus and Orlando, which will make this match very interesting from a tactical perspective.
How the Crew can win:
There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the Crew’s inability to find the back of the net in recent matches. Whether the team is unlucky, strikers are lacking confidence or the attack is just poor in front of goal, everyone seems to have their own opinions.
Despite this, the fact remains that the Black & Gold have an expected goals of 12 goals and have only scored 10. No matter how you look at it, in order to win games, Columbus will need to find the back of the net. The Crew hasn’t struggled much to create chances but has struggled to finish them and that will need to change in order to achieve what the team wants to this season. There’s no better time to get back on track then in this match against Orlando.
In addition to the obvious benefit of scoring goals, this will also force Orlando to be more aggressive in the attack, which they aren’t particularly comfortable doing. If the Black & Gold can efficiently finish their chances on Saturday, they’ll be able to take control of the game as well as set themselves up for success further down the line.
Both Caleb Porter and Pareja love it when their teams have possession of the ball. Thus, every time these two meet, possession becomes a huge talking point for both sides. If either team is able to control possession for large portions of the match, it will allow them to take control of the flow and rhythm of the match and make their opponents uncomfortable defensively. Each side has attacking players that would prefer not to defend for large portions and can be vulnerable when asked to do so. In addition, it can take these attacking players out of their rhythm and make them largely ineffective when they do have the ball. Lastly, it would allow the team in possession to put a large amount of pressure on their opponent's backline and goalkeeper.
Last but not least, the Crew need a big defensive performance from the midfield this weekend. As discussed, Orlando usually shifts to a 3-5-2 formation when in possession. Conversely, Columbus adopts a 4-4-2 shape. This creates an obvious advantage in the midfield for Orlando. The Black & Gold midfield will need to do a good job rotating to cover each other as well as taking away the ability for the midfielders to pass to the extra man through their defensive pressing angles.
There’s no doubt that this will be a tough task for Columbus on Saturday, but finishing their opportunities in front of goal, dominating possession and effectively compensating for Orlando’s advantage in midfield will go a long way in securing three points for the Black & Gold.