Orlando City’s back is against the wall. This weekend’s match with the Columbus Crew has definitively become must-win with the resurgent Montreal Impact already climbing up the table and the Philadelphia Union not far behind.
On Saturday, the Lions will welcome what has statistically been the second-worst defense in the Eastern Conference this year to Orlando City Stadium. The Columbus Crew have allowed 40 goals in 25 matches this season, behind only D.C. United in the East, and the vast majority of those have come on the road. In the Crew’s last five road trips, they have been battered for 10 goals, and that’s actually including a clean sheet away to Minnesota United.
And while Columbus may boast some of the best fullbacks in the league — Harrison Afful especially -- the Crew’s weakness has been at the center. Center back and Designated Player Jonathan Mensah has been a major disappointment for the Ohio side this year and coach Gregg Berhalter has tinkered around with the defensive formation in an attempt to stop some of the bleeding. The black and gold have used 18 combinations of four and five defenders depending on the situation with varying degrees of success. Most recently, five at the back stonewalled the suddenly-slumping Chicago Fire, but that was at home.
Columbus is currently 3-9-1 on the road with a -14 goal differential and has been on the wrong end of some shallackings this year (not unlike Orlando City). For Orlando to keep its playoff hopes alive, the Lions will need to take full advantage of that on Saturday night and keep the trend up. The Crew have been leaking goals to far less talented attacks lately, including the anemic Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union. With Jason Kreis still hopeful that Dom Dwyer is ready to go after coming back from nose surgery, Orlando should see the striker partnership of Dwyer and Cyle Larin for the first time in front of The Wall.
Without Kaká, the onus for creativity will be on Yoshimar Yotun to provide service for the forward tandem. It’s still a mystery as to how Kreis will replace the star Brazilian, but chances are the creativity will take a step back. Dwyer has shown some bright spots both in making his own runs and serving up balls for Larin in his brief cameos with Orlando so far, but progression will be necessary to find the back of the net Saturday night.
The trick will also be matching with Columbus’ three-man back line without a true playmaker. With both Artur and Wil Trapp capable of shielding an already compact defensive line, Dom and Cyle will need reinforcements from midfield to help break down the Crew. Yotun’s ability to send slicing through balls behind the line will help defeat the offside trap, but the Lions will need to make good use of their possession to lure the Columbus back line away from its own goal.
It will take a collective effort from the midfield and forward lines to work the ball around and into the box. That is where the Crew have struggled lately, with focusing too much attention on a singular attacker and allowing others to slip into space. With Dywer and Larin both extremely capable of finding seams, it’s up to the rest of the team to find them. The opportunities will be there, it will be up to the Lions to take them.