Orlando City SC has a very important game this weekend against Columbus Crew SC. Winless for the last five matches, the Lions return home after three weeks and need a victory more than ever to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Orlando, though, will not have captain Kaká, who was sent off against the New York Red Bulls and the club decided not to appeal the decision. If the Brazilian will definitely be missed by the team, his absence gives Head Coach Jason Kreis a unique opportunity to try to surprise the club’s conference rivals with an unusual formation.
One important thing to notice is that Crew SC has changed a lot since it handed Orlando its first defeat in 2017, in April, when Kaká also did not play — that time because of an injury. The team has been playing a 3-4-2-1 system that seems to provide it a better defensive balance, but, as any system, has its own weaknesses.
The Ohioans still build their game by controlling possession, but now are also capable of scoring on counter attacks and this is probably the way they will approach Saturday’s game, especially if midfielder Federico Higuain is not cleared to play.
One option to replace Kaká is simply slotting Dom Dwyer in his spot. The recently-signed forward went through a nose surgery last week and is expected to be back on the field against Columbus. If that is the case, it could be an interesting idea using a three-man front line composed by Dwyer, Cyle Larin, and Carlos Rivas to match Crew SC’s three-man back line.
That would eliminate their extra man on defense and would immediately require some adjustments from Columbus Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, who could have midfielder Wil Trapp in a more defensive role or choose to have his fullbacks a few steps behind where they usually are. Either way, forcing a system that is working well to make changes is one of the best ways to generate mistakes.
Another potential weakness of Crew SC’s new system is its midfield. With only Trapp, Artur and eventually Justin Meram moving around the midfield line, this is an area of the field where Orlando can clearly outnumber its rivals.
Sending to the field a dynamic midfield with Cristian Higuita, Will Johnson, Antonio Nocerino, and Yoshismar Yotún could be enough to dominate the actions in the middle (despite a possible lack of creativity) and disrupt most of Crew SC’s plays.
If Dwyer cannot play alongside Larin, he could be replaced by Rivas or even newcomer Dillon Powers, who would provide more strength to the midfield and also help to shield Orlando's back line, which has constantly struggled when Jonathan Spector is not in the field, which will be the case.
Regardless of the lineup, Orlando needs a solid performance to take home the three points. A bad result at home will really hurt the team’s playoff aspirations.