Fresh off of bowing out of the U.S. Open Cup, Head Coach James O’Connor takes his Orlando City side up to central Ohio for the team’s first shot at the Columbus Crew in 2018. While O’Connor is looking to build on the momentum after the Lions’ first MLS victory since May 6, Gregg Berhalter is looking to right the ship for the Crew. Columbus has just one victory in its last eight tries and has slowly slipped down the Eastern Conference table.
It could be an emotional match for multiple reasons. Former Crew winger Justin Meram could potentially make his return to Mapfre Stadium, though the Iraqi international has mysteriously been absent from O’Connor’s last two team sheets and didn’t travel to Philadelphia with the team. And with Anthony Precourt still threatening to pick up shop and move to Austin in 2019, it could also be Orlando’s final trip to Columbus for the foreseeable future.
What’s the latest with #SaveTheCrew? At this point in the game, is there anything fans of other teams can do to help keep the Crew in Columbus?
Pat Murphy: It’s kind of quiet right now. There were city council meetings in June in Austin and that resulted in Precourt Sports Ventures (Crew’s “owners”) getting approved to negotiate for a stadium site down there while also opening up the doors for other investors to put in their bids. Basically we’re in a holding pattern until August when the city council meets again down south.
In Columbus, from what we hear there are potential local owners waiting to pull the trigger on purchasing the team, but they have to get the green light from the league. The question right now is will that happen? As for anything fans of other teams can do is keep spreading the word. The biggest message Save The Crew has tried to get out is that if it happened to us (a team that once was selling out stadiums), it can happen to anyone. No one wants to see fans lose their team, so let’s spread the word together.
The Crew have been streaky this year and after a nine-match unbeaten run have lost four of their last five. How can Columbus get back on track?
PM: Score goals. That’s been a very big problem of late. Crew SC has one win its last five games. In that game, they scored. In the other four, they were shut out. It’s been weird because offense has never been a problem under Gregg Berhalter, typically we’re talking about defensive issues. But this year, the defense has been good and, at times, the offense has struggled. That tends to happen I guess when you lose your top two goal scorers from the year prior, but Columbus has shown the ability to score goals this year, it’s just not happening right now.
Gyasi Zardes has had a revitalization under Gregg Berhalter and is on track for his best goal-scoring season ever. What has been the key to the former LA Galaxy man’s success with his new club?
PM: Playing in Berhalter’s system. While I said above that there’s been a problem for the team of scoring goals of late, Zardes hasn’t been the issue. It’s more everyone else who isn’t scoring. If you look back at how forwards have done under Berhalter, they’ve all been successful. Kei and Ola Kamara, for example. The system the Crew plays is catered towards getting the ball in good spots for the forward. That has helped Zardes find his form.
It also helps that Gyasi is healthy and playing his true position. The way he tells it, his last couple of years in LA were a nightmare in terms of injuries. Any time we ask him about his season, he leads with something about being healthy. You can tell that he’s just happy to not be battling any injuries and that he can be on the field. The Galaxy also played him out wide a lot of the time, or sometimes as an outside back. When he was a target forward — as he is with the Crew — he scored 16 goals.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
PM: Nothing on the injury/suspension front for Crew SC. As for a lineup, I’d assume:
Harrison Afful-Jonathan Mensah-Josh Williams-Milton Valenzuela
Niko Hansen-Artur-Wil Trapp-Pedro Santos
I’m going to say 2-1 Crew. I think this will be a tight game, with Orlando willing to concede possession on the road and looking to hold on for a draw. Crew SC will get its chances and finish a couple.
Thanks again to Pat for taking the time to answer our questions on the Crew.