Orlando City is by no means eliminated from playoff contention, but its back is as close to the wall as it can get with just 10 games remaining this season.
The Lions will enter the weekend five points behind both the Columbus Crew (11-12-2, 35 points) and Atlanta United for one of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. While a win this weekend wouldn’t bring the club back over the red line, Orlando City (8-10-6, 30 points) has an opportunity to close the gap with the Crew coming into Orlando City Stadium for the first time this season on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, TV27).
“Right now, it’s about how badly do we want it, how much are we willing to fight for it?” That’s what Head Coach Jason Kreis said about his team at training on Wednesday, and with the club struggling right now after seeing leads disappear in each of its last three games, how much Orlando City is willing to fight might just determine its playoff fate over the next few weeks.
Orlando is coming into the match off the heels of a disappointing 3-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls last Saturday. Carlos Rivas put the Lions up 17 minutes in, but New York was pulled back into the game thanks to a Leo Pereira own-goal in the 30th minute. The Red Bulls then scored a pair of second-half goals to take all three points away from the match.
To top it all off, Kaká saw a straight red for the second time in his MLS career at the end of the match thanks to video review, keeping the captain sidelined this weekend after the club decided not to appeal.
The Crew are coming off of a convincing 3-1 win themselves, having taken down the Chicago Fire at home over the weekend. But they’ve lost six of their last eight (1-6-1) away from Mapfre Stadium.
Orlando City played some of its best soccer in a while during the first 45 minutes of its loss at New York, but the second half is where it all unraveled. The Lions couldn’t deal with the Red Bulls’ high press well enough, and found themselves struggling to get the ball over the midfield line because of it.
And that’s been Orlando City in a nutshell over the last two and a half months. Occasionally, it’ll play really good soccer for 45 minutes, but can’t figure out how to do it for the full 90. Figuring it out this weekend might be tough with Kaká, but the Lions have the benefit of potentially getting Dom Dwyer back. Dwyer missed the Red Bulls match because of minor nose surgery a couple days prior to the game. He’s been training with the team this week and has been fitted for a mask to wear in the game, suggesting he’ll be available for selection.
Should he play, it’ll be Dwyer’s debut as an Orlando City play at Orlando City Stadium — Orlando City has only played on the road since the club acquired him from Sporting Kansas City last month. It’ll also be Yoshi Yotún’s home debut. The Peruvian midfielder looked sharp in his club debut over the weekend. Perhaps Dillon Powers gets his first start in the midfield in place of the suspended captain.
Outside of Kaká, the Lions are still expected to be without defender Jonathan Spector, who missed the Red Bulls game because of injury.
Like many teams, the Crew have joined the growing list of clubs to switch to a three-back formation in recent weeks. While the Crew have been a better team defensively because of it, they now concede possession for large parts of matches, and now play to wait for the opportunity to counter-attack — which, by the way, Orlando City has been burned on from time to time over recent weeks.
The Crew no longer have Ethan Finlay — he’s in Minnesota with Adrian Heath and Kevin Molino now — but they do have Portugese winger Pedro Santos, who they signed to a Designated Player deal in the summer window. If he’s available for Gregg Berhalter on Saturday, it’d be his MLS debut.
Columbus is also hoping to have play-making midfielder Federico Higuain back this weekend. He’s been out recently with a knee injury, but has been seen in training throughout the week.
Player to Watch For
Ola Kamara is very good. He has 12 goals this season and three over his last three games, even as rumors come out about his contract status with the club. He’s a quick guy and dangerous in front of goal. With Spector likely out, once again it’ll be on the back line to step up.
Prediction: Orlando City 3, Columbus Crew 1
The Lions need a big win. Dom Dwyer is back, and he’s going to officially return to Orlando and with a fire in his belly. He scores a brace, and for another week the Lions’ playoff hopes stay very much alive.