It's an important match for the Lions (2-2-2, 8 points), as the Crew (1-2-2, 5 points) are likely to be in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference at the end of the season. It's early, but even at this point, every point counts against mid-table conference rivals.
Columbus is coming off its own two-week road swing, where the club managed to draw both matches against the Vancouver Whitecaps and New England Revolution. Striker Kei Kamara scored a brace in the club's 2-2 midweek draw with Vancouver last week, but they were most recently held scoreless this past weekend at New England.
The biggest question mark for the Crew will be midfielder Wil Trapp, who missed last weekend's match with a recurrence of symptoms from a concussion he suffered more than three weeks ago. Our thoughts are with the 22-year-old American, and we hope it doesn't become a long term issue for him. The Crew will miss him on the pitch if he's unable to go again on Saturday.
Momentum is at a season-high for Orlando, which is coming off a dominant 2-0 victory on the road in Portland. Rookie Cyle Larin scored his first MLS goal in the match, and indications from practice are that he'll be starting again for the Lions. Better still, Brek Shea will be available for the match after playing the second half of the USMNT's dos a cero friendly victory over Mexico on Wednesday.
Formation and Starting XI:
Orlando City: If there's one golden rule in coaching soccer, it's "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." So, while it's tempting to say that Head Coach Adrian Heath will insert Carlos Rivas into the starting XI and revert back to his preferred 4-2-3-1, it's hard to argue with the results of the flexible 4-3-3 formation deployed against Portland. With no additional injuries and Shea presumably fit to play, I think this is what we'll see on Saturday. Addendum: If Shea is not fit, I expect they will insert Rivas for the additional attacking option on the left.
The system, at this point, is well established for the Lions: the fullbacks push forward down the flanks, while Kaká and Kevin Molino cut in toward the top of the penalty area. On Saturday, whether or not Trapp plays may dictate just how successful this is. With Shea playing on short rest, Orlando will need to build more attack through Molino and Rafael Ramos on the right side. This could easily be the week that one of them scores their first MLS goal.
Columbus Crew: The Crew are similar to Orlando, in that they also prefer to play a more possession-based, attacking style of soccer. We'll call their formation a 4-2-3-1, though the wing players can be a little more withdrawn at times. They held 57% of the possession last weekend against New England, but they managed zero shots on goal.
The style of play here will be very similar to Orlando's standard strategy. The offense runs through Argentinian Federico Higuaín, who plays in a fairly similar style to Kaká. He's just physical enough to cause you problems, and he's certainly capable of scoring from outside the box, but he's most dangerous when he's setting up his teammates to score.
If Trapp is indeed not in the lineup, the Crew will lack mobility in the center of the pitch, which could spell trouble against Molino and Kaká. Even with Trapp, though, the biggest problem for Columbus may simply be that they only have mid-to-low table talent. Orlando is simply more talented at most spots on the pitch, and if the Lions are clicking, they should be able to beat the Crew at their own possession oriented game.
What to Watch For:
Ramos/Molino Combination: Sure, it's fair to say that Brek Shea and Kaká have had the bigger impact so far this season. But Ramos has been very good as well, and the feeling around town is that Kevin Molino is poised for a breakout game. I think this match may be the perfect opportunity.
In the defensive midfield on Columbus' left side, Tony Tchani is a skilled MLS midfielder. However, at 6-foot-4, the hulking Cameroonian is the exact type of player that the nimble Molino should feast on. Factor in attack-minded left back Waylon Francis, and Orlando City has a golden chance to create scoring opportunities down the right side.
WIl Trapp and Brek Shea: It's a 2-4-1 deal (BOGO!) this week, as each team has questions surrounding a key member of its squad. For Columbus, Trapp was in Providence, Rhode Island as of Tuesday, receiving treatment from a concussion specialist. He plays the same role for the Crew as Amobi Okugo does for Orlando, so it's a huge loss for the Ohio club if he's unable to play.
On the other side, Brek Shea flew directly from San Antonio on Wednesday evening after playing 45 minutes for the USMNT. He went the full 90 on Sunday for the Lions against Portland, so there's almost no way he's at 100% for this one. Shea is a good enough player to contribute even after missing practice for the week, but he's also seemed to fade a bit in the latter stages of matches this season. It's unlikely Orlando would have taken the trouble to fly him up if they didn't plan to use him, but one tired mistake on the defensive end could spell trouble for City.
I do think Orlando City is the better team here, and I believe that will be apparent on the table by season's end. Still, it's back-to-back road matches for the Lions, and coming home with six points may be expecting too much.
I think Molino may finally get on the board in this one, but I'm not sure Orlando will be able to keep a hot Kei Kamara off the board for 90 minutes either.
Final Score: 1-1 Tie
What are your predictions for Orlando's seventh match? Let us know in the comment section. Be sure to join in on our Match Day Open Thread 90 minutes (or so) prior to kickoff!
The match is scheduled for Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised locally on My65 locally, Sun Sports regionally, and nationally on MLS Live.