Orlando City has just two matches left in the 2018 season, with the last at Orlando City Stadium spent welcoming the Columbus Crew and former forward Justin Meram. Even with the Lions in a horrific slump, with the Crew coming to town chances are there will be some excitement after the last meeting. After a phantom penalty saw Orlando drop two points on the road, a confrontation kicked up which should provide some extra incentive for the players on both sides. Add in Justin Meram returning to play in front of the fans that he was publicly at odds with in Orlando’s final home match of the year and this could get interesting.
What’s the atmosphere like in Columbus now that the Crew are so close to being saved?
Pat Murphy: Friday was a crazy day. Fans gathered at one of the local bars, which opened a few hours early, on Friday afternoon to begin celebrating before things were even announced. It was rather remarkable to see all of these people at the bar so early. I kept thinking “Don’t these people have jobs?”
Basically, people have been celebrating non-stop since Friday happened...and there’s been nothing official announced. It’s been a crazy last year and finally people have some form of a resolution. Even at practice this week, you got a sense when asking players about it that this was a load off their shoulders not know what is going to happen.
How has Justin Meram gotten on since his return to Central Ohio?
PM: He’s been good. Statistically he only has one goal and one assist since coming back, but he certainly looks more like himself than what I saw when he was in Orlando. I think the comfort of playing with a team he knows, a staff he knows and a system he fully understands really helps him. I also think it was a “grass isn’t always greener” (and that’s no offense to Orlando) situation that he needed to learn from leaving.
He also just seems more relaxed. We talked to him on Wednesday and you can just see how happy he still is to be back. I think he just didn’t realize how important comfort and confidence is to his game until he didn’t have either of those two things.
Columbus has struggled at times in recent matches, including a 3-0 loss in Montreal the last time out. What’s been the issue for the squad lately?
PM: The issue all year has been scoring goals. If Gyasi Zardes isn’t bagging goals, this team is in trouble. He has 16 this season and the next closest, Federico Higuain, has five. The Crew have been very reliant upon him to score, which hasn’t been a thing in previous years under Gregg Berhalter.
The loss to Montreal was a strange one. That seemed to be a perfect storm of a team that was desperate (the Impact) and maybe some overconfidence from the Crew. Once Montreal scored, the game was over, which has not been the case most of the year. I think that was just a one-off and the team seems to have responded well in the last two weeks in training.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend?
PM: There’s nothing really of note. Zack Steffen, as you likely know, had some hamstring tightness while with the national team but he’s assured us that he’s fine and been in practice all week.
Thanks again to Pat for taking the time to provide some insight on Columbus.