Orlando City’s two-game road trip, which included stops in Montreal and Los Angeles, went a little bit better than most would have expected, with the Lions (7-8-13, 34 points) pulling off a 4-1 win against the Impact before falling to the Galaxy, 4-2, on Sunday to bring three points back with them to the Sunshine State.
And now, as the Lions continue their playoff push — sitting one point ahead of D.C. United and the New England Revolution — they’ll welcome their rivals, the Columbus Crew (5-11-11, 26 points), to Camping World Stadium for the first time this season.
Every match is a must-win game for Orlando City at this point, and there’s no doubt the fans will want nothing more than to see the club deliver three points at home against a team they have no admiration for.
On the other side of the ball, the Crew are coming off their second consecutive defeat, a 3-1 loss at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps. And while the last-place team in the Eastern Conference doesn’t have much chance of making the playoffs at this point, a win in Orlando would certainly boost morale around the club.
Starting XI and Lineup Predictions:
I wouldn’t expect to see that many changes from the side Jason Kreis deployed against the Galaxy on Sunday. We probably can surmise that Antonio Nocerino will miss out on this match-up. Alicia Del Gallo reported from training on Wednesday that the Italian midfielder, who has played very well under Kreis, picked up a slight hamstring injury. It doesn’t seem like Cristian Higuita is ready to return, either, so Kreis will most likely go to Tony Rocha to fill his spot in the defensive midfield.
Kreis used the same back line in both games on the road trip, but we could see a pair of changes to come against Columbus. Tommy Redding might slide in for David Mateos (yellow card suspension), and it wouldn’t shock me to see Mikey Ambrose slotted in at left back to replace Luke Boden. Kreis is trying to win games, but he’s also made it clear that he wants to evaluate the club ahead of 2017, and starting Ambrose, Aja, and Redding would give the new gaffer a youthful look into the future.
We could also be looking at the return of Rafael Ramos this weekend. The right back hasn’t played since May, and apparently some visa issues kept him traveling with the team to Montreal. He’s been healthy and available for a couple of weeks now, and could be selected, at least in a sub capacity, by Kreis.
It’ll also be interesting to see how Kreis lines up his attacking midfield. While I don’t see him making any changes because of how well Kaká, Matias Perez Garcia and Kevin Molino have played, Brek Shea and Carlos Rivas now give him some compelling options to choose from.
The Crew are not very good. Kei Kamara has not played for the club since May, and he’s still their second highest goal scorer in 2016, tied with Ethan Finlay with five goals this season in a Crew uniform.
Fear not, however, as a Kamara is still doing damage for Columbus. Ola Kamara, that is, leads the club with 11 this season, and broke a month-and-a-half-long scoring drought, picking up a goal against the Whitecaps this past weekend — his last goal before that, actually, was against Orlando City on July 23 at Mapfre Stadium in the only meeting between the two sides this season, a 2-2 draw.
2016 has not gone the way the Crew were hoping for coming off their MLS Cup final appearance last season. Federico Higuain only has four goals and three assists this season in just 19 games. His best link-up partner, Kei, was forcefully shipped off to New England early in the season amid some locker room turmoil.
The Crew will be without midfielder Tony Tchani, who picked up a red card against Vancouver. Higuain is doubtful to start too because of an abdominal injury that held him out against the Whitecaps.
Players To Watch:
Ola Kamara is the man you’ll need to keep an eye on at the top of the Crew attack. Kamara, prior to his goal-scoring drought, had scored 10 goals across nine matches, including his goal against Orlando City back in July.
With Tchani out and Higuain not expected to start, that puts more pressure on guys like Kamara and Finlay to generate the majority of the offense for Columbus, while getting help from others like Cedrick and Justin Meram.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, Columbus Crew 1
This is not just a must-win game for Orlando City, but one I think they should be able to take three points from. The Crew are one of the worst teams in MLS this season, and Orlando has been showing a lot of progress under Kreis so far.
Sure, the 4-2 loss at LA didn’t look good, but the team’s chances of taking points in LA were always slim, and the 4-1 win at Montreal earlier in the week does enough to offset that.