It seems like only yesterday we were piling into the brand spanking new Orlando City Stadium for opening day against New York City FC. But no, it wasn’t yesterday. It was months ago and tomorrow Orlando City brings its 2017 home schedule to a close with a match against Columbus Crew SC. I’m not ready for the off-season but it’s closing in fast.
It’s only been a matter of weeks since these teams last met in Orlando. Has anything changed for Columbus since we last saw the Black & Gold?
Patrick Murphy: A decent amount actually. That match marked the second of what is still an ongoing eight-game unbeaten run for Crew SC which has seen the team secure a playoff spot and provided a lot of confidence about the group heading into the postseason.
When these teams last met, Columbus was still playing with three in the back and recent Designated Player signing Pedro Santos came off the bench. Santos is now a fixture in the Black & Gold lineup on the right wing and Gregg Berhalter has gone back to the more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.
This brought back the offensive, possession style Crew SC prefers to play and Santos has fit right in. The question still remains how good this team is defensively when pushing numbers forward, but over that unbeaten run (six games of which have been with four in the back), the team has given up just eight goals.
What is the team’s mentality just a couple of games before the postseason? Is Gregg Berhalter just fine tuning, or are they concerned with their seeding in the East?
PM: As I mentioned above, there's a lot of confidence within this team. The first half of the season was the time when Berhalter did a lot of tinkering, trying to figure out what the best lineup was to succeed. Over the last third of the year, he's found what he likes and it's getting results.
In talking to the players over the past week or so, it's apparent that this team is hungry for more. They would like to host a playoff game at the least, meaning getting above the Chicago Fire, who are two points up in the standings. Obviously how the Fire do is out of Crew SC's control, but winning will keep pressure on Chicago to do so as well.
Given a week off, I fully expect this team to come out fired up to be back on the field and look to get a result on the road in this game.
It should be an emotional game Sunday with it being Orlando’s home finale and the final match in Orlando City purple for Kaká, who reportedly won’t be making the trip to Philadelphia next week. How do you think the Crew will handle the atmosphere?
PM: I'm sure this will make things interesting. While OCSC doesn't have anything tangible to play for, we've seen how dangerous eliminated MLS teams can be in the past. As you mentioned, this is the last home game and Kaká's last match, so there's some added incentive there for Jason Kreis' men.
I think the key, from the Columbus perspective, will be getting through that opening portion of the match unscathed. An early goal either way could go a long way in determining the outcome of the match.
The Black & Gold have matured throughout the season, but this will still be a big test and one they need to pass if they want to continue to ride the wave of momentum into the postseason.
Injuries?/Suspensions?/Projected starting XI?/Score line prediction?
PM: Alex Crognale is out after hernia surgery. Waylon Francis has been battling a thigh issue on and off but appears to have gotten through that over the off weekend. No suspensions.
Projected lineup: Zack Steffen; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Hector Jimenez; Pedro Santos, Artur, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram; Federico Higuain; Ola Kamara.
I'm going to go with a 1-1 draw in this one.
Big thanks to Pat from Massive Report for giving us some insight once again on Sunday’s opponents from Columbus.