It's time for your weekly intelligence report, to get to know a little more about Saturday's foes, Columbus Crew SC. Here to help us get ready for the game is Patrick Murphy, a editor from Massive Report, our fellow SB Nation blog.
Who are three Crew players that Orlando City fans should know about?
Patrick Murphy: Federico Higuain, the older brother of Gonzalo Higuain, is certainly the first. He is the team's playmaker, the No. 10. He moves all over the pitch to get the ball and creates for his teammates. Playing in Columbus doesn't get him the recognition he might at other teams around the league, but he's certainly one of MLS's top players.
Wil Trapp is the heart of the team. The Homegrown central midfielder really makes things go in the center of the pitch. He not only sits deep and distributes the ball like any defensive midfielder, but operates as cover defensively, dropping into the middle of the defense, as the wing backs get forward to create the width of Crew SC's formation. His ability to break up plays before they happen saves the defense a lot of work. He also has really developed his offensive game over his first two years in the league, spraying the ball around from his deep-lying position. Trapp missed the last game with concussion-like symptoms but another week off should hopefully see him restored to the lineup.
Justin Meram had a breakout year in 2014 with 11 goals and four assists. After beginning the season coming off the bench, the former forward locked down the left side of the Black and Gold's midfield, cutting in on his preferred right foot frequently to cause havoc. He earned his first call-up to the Iraqi national team last year and has since made 13 appearances. His speed, one v. one ability, and long-range shooting make him someone in which Orlando's right side will have to constantly be aware.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
PM: Head coach Gregg Berhalter plays almost exclusively out of a 4-4-1-1 that can also look like a 4-2-3-1 at times. The team's focus is on possession and attacking. The outside backs must get forward as the outside midfielders pinch in to support the striker. The team moves the ball around, forcing the opposition to work hard to get it back. The idea is typically to probe the opposing defense until space opens and there is a goal scoring opportunity.
What have you learned about this year's Columbus team through the first few MLS games this season?
PM: It's been tough to learn much about this side because of inconsistent lineups and some strange scheduling. Crew SC is yet to be able to roll out the same starting XI in consecutive games this year due to international call-ups, injuries, and suspensions. What this has indicated is that there is a good amount of depth in the team, as players like Kristinn Steindorsson, Mohammed Saeid, and Chris Klute have done well covering for unavailable players.
The schedule also hasn't helped. After playing the first two weekends, Columbus had an off week, a game, 10 days off, then two games in four days across the continent. Although many of the players returned from a year ago, the Black and Gold are still developing cohesiveness in this new season.
There have been moments of brilliance from this team, but it has been hard to assess the play too much because of all the changes and time off.
What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team at this point?
PM: The talented depth in the midfield is certainly a strength so far. Starters Meram, Trapp, Higuain and Tony Tchani have all missed time and Ben Speas, Steindorsson and Saeid have come in and done well. Steindorsson and Saeid were added in the offseason, so they are still learning, but it's good to have talent available off the bench when needed.
A weakness thus far has been on defense. The team has allowed five goals in five games with two shutouts, but there have been some uncharacteristic mistakes made that have allowed goals. Club captain Michael Parkhurst was a rock along the back line a year ago, but gave the ball away that led directly to a goal against the New York Red Bulls and was out of position on a quick throw in that ended in a goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Fortunately, this weakness is something that can be fixed and Parkhurst, along with fellow center back Emanuel Pogatetz, should be back to a solid defensive partnership.
What are the fans' expectations for the club, both realistic and unrealistic?
PM: Expectations were certainly high in the preseason. It took some time last year, but the team really came together over the second half of the season. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2011, fans of the Black and Gold expect more of the same this year. Making the playoffs again is the minimum requirement for this team and many fans think the club can make a serious run at MLS Cup.
What do you expect the Crew's starting XI to look like on Saturday and what is your final score prediction?
PM: Columbus may finally be able to roll out the first choice team Saturday, assuming Trapp and Waylon Francis are able to go and no other injuries are picked up during the week. If so, this is what the lineup should look like.
Steve Clark; Hernan Grana, Michael Parkhurst, Emanuel Pogatetz, Waylon Francis; Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram; Federico Higuain; Kei Kamara.
If Trapp is still hurt, Saeid will step in for him and if Francis is a no go, Chris Klute is likely his replacement.
I'm terrible with predictions, but I'll go 2-1 Crew SC.
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Big thanks to Patrick for helping us get to know more about our new foes.