Although Orlando City has not yet won a match since Adrian Heath was fired (or since Kaká met Justin Bieber), the Lions played an attractive, attacking, fearless brand of soccer Saturday night in their 2-2 draw at Vancouver. It’s something they may be able to build on, as the club got a few shots in the arm this week.
The captain returned to full training, center back Jose Aja was officially signed, and...oh yes, there’s that whole Jason Kreis hiring. Knowing that a coach who has won MLS Cup is ready to take over and steer the ship has to be an exciting prospect for a club that’s been a bit adrift this year.
Here to help us learn more about the team from my old stomping grounds in Columbus, OH, is Pat Murphy from SB Nation’s Crew blog, Massive Report. Pat was kind enough to answer my questions about his team and I did the same for him. You can find my answers over at their place.
It’s been a while since Orlando City and Columbus tangled. Who are the Crew’s key additions and subtractions since we last met that we should know about and how have they affected the team and approach so far in 2016?
Pat Murphy: The biggest addition for the club is Ola Kamara. The striker has made the loss of Kei (no relation) much easier with his nine goals in nine starts. He is different than Kei in that he doesn't possess the same athletic ability, so the offense has had to shift its focus. Ola makes good runs and likes to receive the ball to his feet. This means the attacking passes have to be more accurate, whereas Kei could go up and get long balls and crosses. It's been a different form of offense, but Ola is contributing a similar scoring output.
Other than that, most of Crew SC is the same. Corey Ashe, who Orlando fans know from last year, has started eight matches this season in place of Waylon Francis, but the Costa Rican has recently reclaimed his place at left back. Columbus just signed Norwegian defender Nicolai Næss, who they hope will help alleviate some of the defensive issues, but he will not be available in time for this match.
The Crew have struggled after their MLS Cup final run last year. What has caused such a drop in form this season? Injuries? Bad luck? Poor performances? Complacency? All/none of these?
PM: I think all of the above have contributed in some way. Injuries have certainly been a factor, as both Federico Higuain (sports hernia) and Gaston Sauro (PCL tear) have been out the last several matches. While Higuain is back in training, Sauro won't be back until likely September. Both of these players are hard to replace in the Columbus lineup.
I don't know if I'd call it back luck, but Columbus doesn't seem to have things going its way this year. The players keep talking about needing to get one win to start moving things back in the right direction. Captain Michael Parkhurst has mentioned how last year little bounces or things would go the team's way, whereas this year, balls are hitting the post or whatever the case may be. Basically, when it rains, it pours and the Black & Gold are feeling that right now.
To go along with that, players that have been key contributors the last few years aren't having the same types of seasons they have become accustomed to. Ethan Finlay's numbers are down and his performances have found him on the bench. Justin Meram is playing well, but isn't scoring or generating many assists either. Despite being named an All-Star, Wil Trapp has had several key passes fall short of the target or go directly to the opposition. Those players need to turn things around if Crew SC is going to.
What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from Columbus and what do you view as the game's key match-up?
PM: The system and style of play will be similar to what fans saw last year from the Black & Gold. Crew SC lines up in a 4-4-1-1 with the fullbacks pushing forward to provide the width. Meram likes to tuck inside and sometimes operates in the No. 10 role, and Finlay or Cedrick Mabwati play off Harrison Afful's runs down the flanks. Columbus misses Higuain's movements around the field, as both Mohammed Saeid and Dilly Duka have not provided the same offensive spark as Higuain typically does.
As for the match-up, I think it's the same for both teams. How do the center backs stop a forward who is on form? Both Ola and Cyle Larin have nine goals and are dangerous in the 18-yard box. Neither of these defenses has proven to be foolproof, so who can do the better job on the other's primary attacker? That will be key in this contest.
Can you please give us your key injuries/suspensions, projected starting XI and score prediction?
PM: As mentioned above, Higuain and Sauro are the two biggest injuries. Conor Casey, who would provide forward depth, also continues to work his way back from a knee injury. He's getting closer but likely won't be available for this one. Higuain is a possibility, as he has been back in training for over a week now, but Berhalter was very noncommittal on if he would play or not.
Harrison Afful-Michael Parkhurst-Tyson Wahl-Waylon Francis
Cedrick Mabwati-Tony Tchani-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram
1-1 has been the recent score line of choice for Crew SC, but I see this one having more goals. Let's go 2-2.
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Big thanks to Pat from Massive Report for giving us some insight on tonight's opponents from the Buckeye State.