Orlando City returns to Camping World Stadium tonight for a brief appearance before heading back out on the road for matches at D.C. United and Toronto FC. It’s our one opportunity to give the lads in purple a friendly environment this month.
The Lions (7-8-13, 34 points) are licking their wounds from a 4-2 loss at LA Galaxy last Sunday, but before that the team turned in two complete performances in wins over Montreal and New York City FC. Can the team regain its winning ways and relegate that Galaxy loss to a mere speed bump in the playoff chase? Columbus (5-11-11, 26 points) provides a tempting target, but we’ve seen Orlando City squander points against bottom-dwelling teams before. Another full 90-minute team effort will be required to secure a victory.
Back with us again to help us learn more about the visitors tonight 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.
Columbus has been an enigma this season. After reaching the MLS Cup final last season, the team can’t seem to sustain any positive momentum in 2016. With time running out on the playoff chase, how do you assess the team’s chances to make a late run in a weak Eastern Conference and sneak into the postseason?
Pat Murphy: In most other years, Crew SC would be done and dusted. The Black & Gold have not played well enough through 27 games to deserve a spot in the playoffs. As you mentioned though, it's a weak Eastern Conference and Columbus remains only eight points back of Orlando for the final spot and has games in hand over the teams around that position.
It's really crazy how the season has played out. With the injuries and poor form of players that were vital to the success last year, it's incredible that we're still talking about a chance to make the playoffs for this club. While I think last week's 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps at home likely spelled the end for postseason dreams, the team will continue to fight (or so they say) until they are mathematically eliminated. We've seen MLS teams get hot and make up eight points before. It's a tall task, likely too tall, but it's possible.
Federico Higuain is a great player but he’s had some injury issues on and off this season. How likely is he to see the field Saturday night in what might be the Crew’s last chance to climb back into the playoff chase?
PM: I'm not sure I've ever been asked a more difficult question to answer. Let's go back a bit to properly (attempt to) answer this question.
Higuain suffered a sports hernia and had surgery to repair it before Crew SC's June 18 match with the Montreal Impact. He missed six games before coming off the bench against the Lions for 19 minutes. Everything seemed fine as Higuain started the next few matches, playing 90 minutes once and 89 in another. Then he was not even in the game day 18-man roster for Columbus' 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, which was a surprise to all.
Following that game, Gregg Berhalter revealed Higuain was dealing with some swelling in the area of the injury but he came off the bench for 45 minutes in the next match. Last week, Higuain was again left off the 18-man roster.
The team has been rather secretive about Higuain's status. Berhalter doesn't allow the media to see much of training, but it's been even less while the No. 10 has dealt with this injury. As you mentioned, the season is more or less on the line, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him take part, but it also wouldn't shock me if he doesn't.
Now, is that not a great answer that gives you very little information?
Is Gregg Berhalter sticking with his usual formation and tactics these days, or has he been shaking things up to try to get results? Is his job in jeopardy if the Crew fail to reach the playoffs?
PM: No, there has been little to no shakeup in how the Black & Gold play. Berhalter believes in his system and has seen it work in this league over the last two years as the team's head coach. Until recently, the players were all on board with it, but winger Justin Meram said this week that the team needs to change the way it plays when it has a lead in order to not give up goals.
As for Berhalter's job, he's not going anywhere. He took the team to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons in year one and to the MLS Cup Final in year two. He has a vision for this team and one season, filled with injuries, is not going to change ownership's belief in him and what he does.
Something that sort of touches on both questions — Berhalter has said that he wants this year to allow the players that lost the Cup to try and get back to the postseason and make another run. He followed that by saying if that does not work out (as it appears it is not) there will be changes. What that means exactly, we may found out soon.
Can you please update us on any injuries or suspensions that will keep players out? What are your predictions for the Crew’s starting XI and for the final score on Saturday night?
PM: The team is finally starting to get healthy again. Higuain and midfielder Wil Trapp (concussion) are the two question marks. Midfielder Tony Tchani is suspended for this match after receiving a red card last game.
Best guess at a starting lineup: Steve Clark; Harrison Afful, Michael Parkhurst, Gaston Sauro, Corey Ashe; Ethan Finlay, Mohammed Saied, Nicolai Næss, Justin Meram; Hector Jimenez; Ola Kamara.
Final score prediction: 3-1 Orlando.
Big thanks to Pat from Massive Report for giving us some insight on tonight's visitors from the Buckeye State.