Saturday’s contest in Ohio was a tough watch for myself, and, yes, that was partly due to the score line — with Justin Meram’s brace leading the Columbus Crew past the visiting Orlando City, 2-0 — but watching the game on Facebook Live and its very patchy second-half streaming was less enjoyable.
The Lions led the match in possession, shots, and passing, but the Crew won where it counted the most, with a goal in each half to continue their hot start to the season, handing Orlando its first loss of the young campaign.
Our five takeaways from the match:
Jose Aja Goes Down
Just minutes before halftime, Jose Aja went down with an apparent hamstring injury, leading the way for Tommy Redding to make his 2017 debut. While an official announcement hasn’t been made on the status of Aja’s health, Orlando Sentinel writer Alicia Del Gallo reports a minor hamstring injury:
Update on Jose Aja injury: hamstring, probably grade 1, will be evaluated tomorrow.— Alicia Rose DelGallo (@OSAliciaD) April 1, 2017
Orlando City fans will be holding their breath over the next few days as they await more info. Aja has been one of the club’s better players to start the season, and that would be a tough loss for the Lions for any period of time, even with Redding filling his place in the lineup.
Scott Sutter Makes His Debut
The Swiss right back made his Orlando City/MLS debut in the match, coming on for Matias Perez Garcia in the 71st minute. That pushed Will Johnson into the midfield as Sutter replaced him at right back. Meram and Fredrico Higuain spent a lot of time running at that right side in those final 20 minutes, testing Sutter from the get-go. The two also exposed him pretty badly on Meram’s goal in the 77th minute, with Sutter found well out of position. After a Cristian Higuita turnover near midfield, Meram ran unopposed down the Crew’s left wing, letting Higuian pick him out with ease.
Redding was completely focused on Higuian as Kamara snuck by, and Sutter was nowhere on Meran. Oof. pic.twitter.com/2EonYb4ob2— Gavin Ewbank (@GavinEwbank) April 1, 2017
With a full week before the Lions return to action against the New York Red Bulls at home next Sunday, it seems possible that Sutter could make his first start, letting Johnson move back into the midfield fulltime.
Troubles In the Final Third
While Orlando led the way in most major stat columns, the Lions struggled to put anything serious together in the final third, completing just 66 percent of their passes in the attacking area, and only a small handful of attempts into the penalty area.
Scoring, even through just three games, has been tough for the club so far this season. Cyle Larin’s three goals are the Lions’ only ones this season.
Finding Help for Perez Garcia
While MPG hasn’t looked terrible this season, it’s safe to say this isn’t the player that Orlando City fans were expecting to get after his impressive run with the club last year following the mid-season trade. And the biggest cause for concern should be the lack of quality attacking options around him.
Last season, MPG had both Kaká and Kevin Molino to work with. Now, Molino is in Minnesota and Kaká is on the injured list, and it’s showing that MPG isn’t the kind of player — at least not with this cast — to support the attack all on his shoulders as, say, a Kaká or Molino could do.
Defensively, Perez Garcia has been impressive is and carrying his weight in that respect, but until Kaká returns, he might continue to find it hard to keep the ball moving in the midfield like we’ve seen out of him before in purple.
No Reason To Panic
Orlando City went on the road and played a pretty good Columbus team and lost. No big deal. The Lions, as we know, are dealing with a handful of injuries right now. Getting Kaká back soon — hopefully this month — will be a big plus, and with Sutter now getting involved at right back, that means Johnson will be able to slide back into the midfield, which will also be a huge plus for Jason Kreis moving forward. Johnson managed four shots against Columbus.
Also, the Lions have three of their four matches in the month at home, meaning they’ll have the full advantage to take points out of all of those matches. The more points they can grab early in the season, the better. But they’ll be fine, and Saturday’s game is not something to worry about moving forward. It was only the third game.
That’s the way I saw it. What stood out from the match for you?