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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Match Preview, Starting XIs, Predictions, and More

Orlando City welcomes the Columbus Crew to town in Kaká’s final MLS game.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of the international break, Orlando City returns to action this weekend as it heads into the final two-game stretch of the 2017 season. The first of the two games kicks off on Sunday when the Columbus Crew (15-12-5, 50 points) come to Orlando City Stadium for their second and final visit of the year (5 p.m ET, TV27).

The Lions have been eliminated from postseason contention following the New York Red Bulls’ 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, giving Orlando (10-13-9, 39 points) nothing but pride to play for over these next two games. For Head Coach Jason Kreis, these matches serve as a chance for the Lions to finish their season with dignity, but they also represent opportunities for players to make their last impressions on the coaching staff as they head into the off-season.

“These last two games are about building for next season,” Jonathan Spector said after the scoreless draw against FC Dallas two weeks ago. “You know we have to put in performances that we could be proud of, our fans could be proud of and continue to build for next season then."

The last time the Lions took the field, they walked off with a point against Dallas in a game marked with controversy, thanks to two missed handballs and an ineligible player. For a game that finished with no goals, it’ll be a match that surely stands out to fans when looking back at the season, not for what it was, but what it could have been — and what Major League Soccer didn’t do about it.

But that’s in the past now, and there’s no point in dwelling on a result that ultimately didn’t put a dead team any closer to a postseason berth. The Lions have two games left in 2017, and first comes Columbus, a team with a spot locked in the postseason and much more to play for this weekend with home-field advantage still very much on the table.

The last time these two sides met, they drew 1-1 in Orlando on Aug. 19.

Projected Lineups

Orlando City

The story this Sunday will be the Orlando City finale for soccer great and now local legend Kaká. The Brazilian midfielder announced this week that he won’t be re-signing with Orlando City, the team he signed with in the summer of 2014. According to Orlando Sentinel writer Alicia DelGallo, this game against Columbus will be his final MLS match as he won’t be traveling to Philadelphia for the finale against the Union. Sunday will be all about him, as it should be, so expect him to start, and expect him to come off at some point in the second half to a large standing ovation and emotional moments with coaches and teammates on the sideline, for sure.

As for the rest of the squad, I imagine Kreis will attempt to get everything he can out of these last two matches to finish strong, which means going with a normal strength lineup. Whether or not that includes Cyle Larin remains to be seen. The Canadian international returned to training this week after playing with Canada over the weekend, but with a slight knock. He should be good to play, if not start.

Richie Laryea wasn’t with Orlando City B on Thursday night for its game against Tampa, which means we’ll probably see him in the 18 against Columbus. Personally, I’d like to see him play a main role in this one — at the very least, it’s worth Kreis getting a couple more looks at players heading into the winter.

Columbus Crew

As I mentioned, the Crew still have plenty to play for even if they have their playoff spot locked up with a couple of matches left, so don’t convince yourself Orlando might catch a break because the Crew could decide to rest some players this weekend.

The Crew have won two straight and four of their last six overall. While they sit in fifth place in the East entering the weekend, they’re only three points back of third place Atlanta United, meaning home field in the knockout round is well within their reach.

Player to Watch For

For whatever reason, and maybe this is because he plays in a smaller market like Columbus, Ola Kamara is probably one of the more underrated strikers in the league. He has 16 goals this season and has hinted at a possible move overseas, but for now he’s with Columbus and is someone that the Lions’ back line will need to keep a close eye on throughout the night.

Prediction: Orlando City 2, Columbus Crew 1

Sort of like Derek Jeter hitting a walk-off single in his final game at Yankee Stadium in 2014, I think Kaká will slot home a late game-winner for the Lions in his final MLS match. And what a moment that would be for the modern day legend.