After getting some goals last week and continuing to maintain the good away record (seven out of nine possible points), Orlando City should have some confidence stepping onto the field at Mapfre Stadium on Saturday when the Lions take on the current sixth ranked team in the Eastern Conference, Columbus Crew SC.
The Crew were one of the founding members of Major League Soccer and have enjoyed some relative success during their time in the league. They were the 2008 winners of MLS Cup, Supporters Shield winners in 2004, 2008 and 2009, and managed to claim tournament cup glory in 2002, when they won the U.S Open Cup. The club has always been proud of the working class roots of its fans and they even made it part of their club crest.
However, after 20 years in MLS, the club recently underwent something of a makeover. After 20 years of not acknowledging either SC or FC in their name, they decided that it was time to get with the program and whilst doing so, they decided to redesign their crest. So, now Columbus Crew are Columbus Crew SC and instead of this logo:
They are now (in a nod to the famous Borussia Dortmund Crest) this:
The changing of the crest was not without its issues amongst fans. However, since the previous crest was often rated one of the worst in MLS, and since MLS was going through a period of re-branding itself, it made sense for the Crew to get in on the action at the time and try to update its own branding. However, only time with tell if a new crest will help bring the team back to the top of the MLS standings.
After making the playoffs for the first time in three seasons (they finished third in the Eastern Conference), the Crew had a fairly good 2014 season, however, they couldn't make a good season count, falling in the conference semifinals to the New England Revolution, 7-3 on aggregate. The Crew didn't panic buy or offload in the off-season and actually managed to retain the main core of their squad.
The main losses they suffered were to expansion sides, with Orlando City picking up striker Jairo Arrieta (now with D.C. United) and defender Eric Gehrig (now with Chicago) in the MLS Expansion Draft and New York City FC trading allocation money for defender Josh Williams.
The Crew may also be kicking themselves after trading away their first-round SuperDraft pick to Colorado (who used that slection to snap up defender Axel Sjoberg, who has already helped shore up a leaky 2014 Rapids defense).
The biggest gain in the off-season for Columbus was the return of Kei Kamara to the Crew. Kamara, who was initially drafted by Columbus in 2006, returned to MLS after trying to ply his trade in Europe for a number of years, and, so far, his return has looked like a good bit of business for the team. Kamara has already bagged three goals this season (including two against Vancouver), leads the league in shots, and is tied for third in shots on goal.
The Season So Far
The season hasn't been too unkind to Columbus so far. They lost their first game of the season on the road to Houston, 1-0. However, upon returning to Mapfre Stadium for their home opener, they had a reversal of fortune when they completely outplayed a stacked Toronto FC team featuring Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, and racked up a 2-0 win. However, Crew fans didn't have to wait too long to see their first home loss of the season. When the New York Red Bulls came to town, the visitors ended up running out 2-1 winners, thanks to their 1000th goal as an MLS club.
Then, last week, Columbus had a double game week away from home, after already having two bye weeks, playing Vancouver to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday and holding the New England Revolution to a less-than-thrilling 0-0 draw on Saturday.
With Columbus being one of the first teams to have a double game week, here is hoping that Orlando can take advantage of the squad's travel time and tiredness and leave Mapfre Stadiium with all three points.
My Player to Watch
There are a number of names that Orlando City fans need to be aware of ahead of this clash. There is, of course, Kamara, midfield playmaker Federico Higuain, defender and club captain Michael Parkhurst, and midfielder Tony Tchani, who always looks capable of being able to grab a goal. However, my player to watch for this week is Ethan Finlay.
Drafted 10th overall by the Crew in the 2012 SuperDraft out of Creighton University, Finlay had strong rookie and sophomore seasons with the team and has only gotten stronger from there, including having a breakout 2014 season, where he managed 21 starts, 11 goals (shared the club's golden boot) and seven assists.
He has continued that form into this season, having already started all five of the Crew's games so far, with two assists and nine shots on target. The growth of Finlay as a player has coincided with his growth as an integral player for Columbus and he is a player that Orlando will have to keep quiet if they want to get anything out of the game.
That's it for this week's look ahead to the next team in the way of Orlando City's quest for the 2015 MLS playoffs and hopefully we can keep our away streak going before returning home to face Toronto on the 26th.