Orlando City (3-5-4, 13 points) is back in action at the Citrus Bowl Saturday night, as the Columbus Crew are in town for the second of three match-ups with the Lions in this inaugural MLS season.
The Crew (4-4-3, 15 points) aren't nearly Orlando's closest geographical rival, or the most star-studded team to visit this season, but the match will undoubtedly hold some extra importance for the Lions. In the previous meeting in April, Orlando fullback Rafael Ramos was sent off, and the 10-man expansion side was crushed 3-0.
It proved to be the start of a difficult run for Orlando, which went winless in the following three matches. While things have gotten back on track in recent weeks, the home side still sits below .500 and is just barely in the playoff picture. While they'll certainly aim to keep 11 men on the pitch for 90 minutes on Saturday, City will again be impacted by a red card; Brek Shea will miss the match on suspension following the red he picked up against San Jose last weekend.
As for Columbus, fans scoffed, guffawed, and said some very rude things about my mother on Twitter last month when I said their side only had "mid- to low-table talent." I'll be the first to admit, MLS goal scoring leader Kei Kamara has been anything but. However, a loss at Orlando would drop the Crew firmly in the mid-to-low range in the weaker MLS Eastern Conference. *Troll Mode Engaged*
Another fun fact? Columbus has yet to win a match on the road this season, posting a 0-3-2 record in five attempts.
Don't mistake me for purely a homer here; regular readers will know that I'm often more pessimistic on Orlando City than most. I've seen nothing so far to indicate the Lions are on the verge of a meteoric rise to the top of the table. Still, Kaká and co. will be highly motivated this week, and one has to like their chances at home.
Formation and Starting XI:
Orlando City: Miraculously, the injury-prone Lions could have put out the same starting XI for the third consecutive match, if not for Shea's red card suspension. Carlos Rivas is the obvious like-for-like sub though, as both he and Shea have the speed to spring wide but the inclination to drift to the center. It's a huge opportunity for the young Colombian, who started the expansion side's first two matches but has been hampered by injuries and inconsistent form since.
Aurelien Collin is close to a return, but Sean St. Ledger has performed admirably in his stead. Substitute options will be very limited again on the back line though, so Coach Adrian Heath will be counting on his starters to make it the whole 90 minutes (looking at you, Ramos).
Columbus Crew: With over 200 appearances in Major League Soccer, Kei Kamara has long been a talented striker in this league. However, he seems to have found a new gear at the ripe age of 30. With two goals more than his nearest competitors (Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski), Kamara is currently leading the pack for the 2015 MLS Golden Boot.
Columbus is well built to feed a 6-foot-3 goal scorer like Kamara. Federico Higuain is a master distributor from the middle of the pitch, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram are both pure wingers, capable of providing consistent service from out wide. The consistent, high pressure of the two wide players caused City fits in the first match-up, and the Lions must be particularly careful to avoid giveaways in their own half.
What to Watch For:
Higuita and Ceren Control: There's no doubt that the midfield combination of Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita has added a more dynamic attacking element to the center of the field for Orlando. However, there's still some doubt as to whether either can provide the consistency and possession that's required of a holding midfielder. Remember, it was Higuita's careless giveaway just yards from goal that gifted Columbus its second goal in the previous meeting.
The Crew love to counter, and with Higuain in the mix, they're quite good at it. Ceren and Higuita will need to be smart on the ball to avoid a repeat of April's woeful performance.
Carlos Rivas: It's low-hanging fruit, but what else could you really pick for this game? The Colombian Designated Player stands to earn his first start at his preferred left wing role. He'll have big, Texas-sized shoes to fill, but it will be up to him to provide pace in an otherwise slow-developing City attack.
If you've not caught any of his appearances so far, beware his left foot. Backup keeper Earl Edwards Jr. tells us on our PawedCast that he has perhaps the most powerful shot on the team.
The stars seem to be aligned for a good result for Orlando City. The Lions will certainly be motivated after the blowout loss the Crew inflicted on them last month. Further, Columbus just can't seem to win on the road, whereas Orlando seems to have finally gotten the home-win monkey off its back with the 4-0 drubbing of the Galaxy.
Final Score: 3-1 Orlando City
What are your predictions for Orlando's rematch against the Crew? 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, May 30, at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised locally on My65 locally, Sun Sports regionally, and nationally on MLS Live.