Saturday night Orlando City will get a shot at revenge for an earlier 3-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC. Here to give us the inside scoop on the latest with this weekend's opponents is Patrick Murphy from our sister SB Nation blog Massive Report, which provides comprehensive coverage of the Crew.
Oh, and if you're interested in my responses to their questions, you can check them out here.
Obviously there's a change since the last meeting with Hernan Grana leaving the club. What happened there and how has the Crew dealt with it both on and off the field?
Patrick Murphy: Grana Gate, as it was dubbed in Columbus, was a strange scenario. He started on May 2 against D.C. United, but was left out of the 18-man roster a week later against the Seattle Sounders. After the match, head coach Gregg Berhalter said it was a coach's decision to drop Grana and by the following Monday, the two sides had parted ways.
The official reason given for Grana leaving Crew SC was homesickness. The right back had never played outside of Argentina before moving to MLS and hardly outside of his hometown. He had a child during preseason and at the point of his departure had already returned to his homeland twice to see his family. There were rumblings around town that there was more to the situation than that, but everyone I talked to with knowledge of the situation has said the player was simply homesick.
On the field, the Black and Gold have been fine since Grana's departure. The Argentinean was a great attacking right back, but sometimes dominated the ball too much. Hector Jimenez took over at right back and he does more of his work off the ball, allowing creative players such as Federico Higuain more time with the ball.
Off the field, I felt the organization handled the situation rather well. Berhalter made the point that if a player doesn't want to be with the club, or his head is not here, then it would be better for both parties to move on. So far they have and Grana got to be with his family.
Kei Kamara seems to be everything Columbus hoped for when they signed him. He's scoring goals and has helped the Crew offense. Yet the team seems to continue having mixed results where it was once thought the gifted striker would help provide more consistently good results. Why hasn't this team turned the corner yet?
PM: I would argue that Kamara has helped get results. Crew SC are in a far better position than they were at this point a year ago, offensively and in the standings. Right now it's the small mental mistakes that are costing Columbus points. Not getting back on a counterattack after a set piece against D.C., two silly yellow cards from Mohammed Saeid in San Jose, thinking they had the game won in stoppage time last week with Chicago.
I will say this, the offense has had issues playing at the same level for a full 90 minutes each week, especially on the road. Closing out games has come up a few times in the post-match discussions, even after wins. I wouldn't put this on Kamara, but rather a lack of focus sometimes when the team thinks a result is in the bag. If they can clean that up, and Kei keeps scoring, this side can make a much better run over the second half of the season than they did in 2014.
What effects, if any, do you think Wednesday's friendly will have on the game? Do you expect a midweek game and travel to play any role on Saturday?
PM: I can't see it playing too much of a part. The Black and Gold didn't train Wednesday morning like they typically do, using the friendly as their training that day. The starters that did take part only played 45 minutes and there were no injuries to report after the match.
I think the bigger issues will be the travel, heat in Orlando, and playing on turf. Crew SC also plays again on Wednesday and follows that up with a Saturday match next weekend. Berhalter said there will be lineup changes to deal with the match congestion, so that could play a part in how the team does on Saturday.
How is the health of the team right now? Any starters out?
PM: Wil Trapp is still out with a concussion, though he did return to some training this week. Finlay broke his toe last week against Chicago, but took part in partial training on Tuesday and was full go on Thursday. If he is out, Kristinn Steindorsson or Ben Speas are the likely replacements.
What's your projected starting XI for Saturday night?
GK: Steve Clark
D: Hector Jimenez, Michael Parkhurst, Emanuel Pogatetz, Waylon Francis
MF: Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani, Mohammed Saeid, Justin Meram
AMF: Federico Higuain
F: Kei Kamara