The Bobby Murphy era is winding to a close as Orlando City SC prepares to take on Columbus Crew SC Saturday night. The Lions managed to score two in a draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC -- the first goals under the interim coach's watch -- but will they convert that momentum into three points? Jason Kreis has been named the new head coach for the club, and this roster may see the 4-4-2 diamond formation sooner rather than later. Are these Lions prepared to fill it out?
Kaitlyn Savage has been in great form for the Pride recently, and looks to protect the net well enough for the Pride to get three points over the Seattle Reign.
Logan Oliver, Scott Crumbly and yours truly discuss all this and more in this week's edition of The Mane Land roundtable.
Orlando City found the back of the net for the first time in three games last weekend, scoring twice to draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The defense seemed to really collapse around Kevin Molino early, giving Júlio Baptista and Cyle Larin space to work with near the top of the box. Molino's field vision has been knocked before -- he's been seen with his head down taking an extra touch throughout his MLS career -- but has shown stellar improvement. Do you feel he's turned a significant corner in this respect? Should we expect more assists from The Original moving forward?
Scott: Molino has taken a step forward this season following his injury-shortened 2015, and it's a shame to think where he could've been with a full season under his belt from last year. But it seems Molino has grown into his role with Orlando City in '16 and we're seeing a natural progression, including improved vision as he gets used to being a focal point for opposition defenses while playing without Kaká on the pitch for much of this year. This season hasn't panned out quite as Lions fans would've hoped to this point, but six assists to go with six goals from Molino has been a bright spot so far. With 1.5 key passes per game coming from No. 18, I think we'll see him continue to provide service for his teammates moving forward.
Wade: The Original has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. He started slowly, but found his form after the captain displayed his confidence in Molino in demanding he take -- and make -- a penalty kick. He's grown stronger and more decisive on the ball, believing that he not only can play in this league, but thrive in it. Expect #Molinomania to run as wild as ever as 2016 wears on.
Logan: Molino's play this season has given legitimacy to all of the speculation about whether or not he could be an impact player in MLS. The good news is that the goal-scoring part of his game seems to be back, and he was always more of a set-up man before he added the goals to his game. I believe he'll get back to that sooner rather than later.
Had Baptista scored his penalty kick, the Lions could very well be looking at three points instead of one. If Captain Kaká isn't on the pitch, who is your choice to take the PKs and why?
Wade: Depending on who is, you could go several different ways. The Original is always a good choice, and has the official endorsement of the captain. I feel Carlos Rivas could benefit from easy chances at net to get his confidence up, especially if he is to be given more opportunities in an attacking role.
Logan: Carlos Rivas is the only other guy on the roster who has proven he can score pens reliably, but really no one else has been given the opportunity. Larin would be my first choice, just because he can put the power and pace on the ball to beat the keeper.
Scott: Without Ricky on the field, I think Molino should be the fill-in for spot-kick duty. We saw him step up and confidently convert a penalty in the win over Portland back in April, and he's the offensive spark the team looks to when the captain isn't playing, so it seems like a natural role for him to embrace. While strikers like Baptista and Cyle Larin are options, we've never seen Larin take an MLS penalty and Júlio didn't do himself any favors in his audition in Vancouver.
Jason Kreis has been announced as Orlando City's new head coach just days before Saturday's match with Columbus Crew SC. Do you expect to see his trademark 4-4-2 formation immediately? What XI do you expect to see fill it out?
Scott: Kreis made it a point to say that he prefers to let his personnel dictate the formation rather than to force a formation onto a team, but I do think we can expect to see the 4-4-2 diamond even if it isn't an immediate switch. Kaká slots in as the midfield creator at the top of the diamond, while Cristian Higuita provides the ball-winning and breakup ability to sweep and provide an anchor at the back. For the two shuttlers, a player like Darwin Cerén has the motor to cover the necessary ground to fan wide and also provide cover for his fullback defensively, while Molino can also create width and take advantage of the passing opportunities created by the four-man midfield.
The fullbacks like Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos/Kevin Alston are accustomed to providing width going forward, which they'd continue to do without two true wing players in the diamond. The tricky part of the 4-4-2 would be who to partner up top with Larin, who we've only seen in a center forward role in his season and a half in MLS. Baptista isn't really a natural partner up top as both are bigger, more physical hold-up players. Carlos Rivas could potentially provide a quicker complement to play off Larin in a pairing, or the club could bring in reinforcement.
Logan: I don't think we have the depth at forward to run two strikers consistently. We have options, whether it's Rivas, Barry, or Baptista who lines up next to Larin, but there's not a lot of quality after Cyle and Júlio. I think Kreis sticks to five in the midfield and tries to implement his pass-and-move philosophy with what we have. I wouldn't be surprised if we target a striker this window.
Wade: I could see Kreis establishing this formation early, though I think variations are to be expected as personnel inevitably turns over. Along the back, I think our best options are Boden and Ramos on the flanks, given their health. Not encouraging, but both players have played well in stretches. I personally prefer the center back pairing of David Mateos and Tommy Redding, though you could beat them in the air without leaving your office chair. I believe Darwin Cerén would be the man on the bottom of the diamond, as Cristian Higuita is likely to draw more interest on the market when one of the two becomes expendable. Brek Shea seems more effective further up the formation, and he opposite Molino while Kaká works on top of the diamond appears to form a really potent midfield supporting Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas up top.
Seriously -- I would love to see Mateos cleaning up possessions and launching balls deep to Cyle and Carlos. That sounds like a lot of fun to watch.
The Crew were always an intense meeting for last season's Orlando City team. With some of the old players and City's former head coach gone, do you think that animosity will carry over to the pitch this weekend?
Wade: Truthfully, I think this "rivalry" has lost a fair amount of steam. The fun was in the volume last year, and there never seemed to be another good reason a club from Ohio would be considered a rival for Orlando. Look for the clubs to play their games with little out of the ordinary of note. Also, Cristian Higuita losing his temper and getting a yellow is not out of the ordinary. Could be playing Columbus, could be playing your daughter's team from the YMCA -- dude's got a 50/50 shot at a yellow card.
Logan: Without Kei Kamara and Rafa Ramos, it's bound to be a toned-down atmosphere compared to some of the other matches. But Columbus is frustrated with how their season has gone so far and we still have Higuita and Cerén, so I would count on some fireworks.
Scott: There are certainly some differences between this year and last, with both teams sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table at eighth and ninth place, respectively. Gone is the 22-goal production of Kei Kamara for Columbus, and gone are the managerial services of Adrian Heath for OCSC. We'll see how things play out on Saturday night, but from an outside perspective it seems like tensions would not be quite as high this weekend given how long it's been since the two teams faced off. Some of the chippiness we saw last year seemed to be a result of three matches between the two sides crammed into the middle of the schedule, while both were in better position than they are currently.
Kaitlyn Savage was in strong form in the 0-1 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Red Stars, making key saves when needed and only missing on what was a near impossible goal. How do you feel about her performances so far?
Scott: Anytime you lose a keeper the quality of Ashlyn Harris, the pressure heaped on the backup is immense. Savage's performance against Chicago was the type that Tom Sermanni loves to see, and as long as Savage can avoid being the goat in Harris' stead, she's really doing all that can be asked of her. More of the same please.
Wade: I love watching a good product on the pitch, and you get there with savvy moves from the front office. This was a savvy, championship move. Top teams find quality contributors in odd places, and Kaitlyn fits the bill easily.
Logan: Savage has been an admirable replacement for Harris and the Pride staff seem to have hit a home run with this signing. The competition when Harris returns from the Olympics will be fierce. It's great to know that the Pride have two class ‘keepers on the books.
Seattle Reign lead the NWSL in draws, while the Pride are the only team in the league that have yet to have one. Do you anticipate a definitive result, or will Orlando's drawless streak come to an end?
Logan: They have to get one eventually, right? Orlando had a great victory last time around and this depleted roster still has a lot of fight in it. The offense has been lackluster unless Kristen Edmonds is scoring golazos and Kaitlyn Savage has been great, so I would expect a 0-0 draw.
Wade: I think a draw is possible, but considering there's three outcomes and that's only one of the possible ones, the betting man in me wants to say we'll see a definitive result. The Pride have alternated wins and losses for over a month -- I wouldn't be surprised to see the pattern continue.
And this edition of the roundtable is adjourned. Let your opinions be heard below, and make sure you find a spot in front of the TV for the games this weekend.