Saturday’s opponents will be the Columbus Crew and in preparation of Orlando’s first meeting of the season with the team from Ohio I spoke to Pat Murphy, Managing Editor of Massive Report, and he was kind enough to bring me up to speed on the Crew’s season. You can find my answers to Pat’s questions over at their place.
While it hasn’t been the easiest season for Columbus so far, the team is only two points out of the last playoff spot. What needs to happen in order for the team to secure a postseason berth?
Pat Murphy: For one, the team needs to get back together. The Crew started the year 4-0-1 before players missed time due to international duty. Then injuries started to hit. Zack Steffen, Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, and Federico Higuain all have been hurt this year. Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes have missed time with the national team. It’s become apparent that there’s not a ton of quality depth on this roster. While Higuain is out for the season and Steffen is moving to Manchester City, the rest of the injured players were back for last Sunday’s game against Sporting Kansas City...and then David Accam got hurt and is expected to miss a couple of weeks.
While I think that is the biggest thing, I think the team also needs to buy into what Caleb Porter is selling a bit more. So many of these players were Gregg Berhalter guys and were used to doing things his way the last five years that it’s been a more difficult transition than expected to shift to Porter, even though the two coaches play a similar system. Buy-in is key and that may be addressed some in the summer transfer window.
Who has been the spark for the team so far this year? Has there been a player who has consistently shone?
PM: Pedro Santos. It’s ironic because for the first year and a half he was on the Crew, fans complained about his lack of statistical production. While he produced in other ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet, he wasn’t scoring or getting assists — something, to be fair, he was brought to Columbus to do.
This season, Santos has been the main attacking catalyst with four goals and two assists. With Higuain out, Santos moved from his winger position to the No. 10 role. While it hasn’t been perfect — he does things differently than Higuain in the middle of the field — it has at least kept a creative playmaker in that role and not made the position an immediate area of need.
Joe Bendik spent three seasons with Orlando City and earned a large amount of goodwill despite having his work cut out for him behind an often shaky defense. How has he performed since his arrival in Columbus?
PM: If you look at the stats, not well. He started two games before Steffen left for Gold Cup duty and allowed three goals in each. If you look closer, however, he played with a mostly reserve lineup in the first game against the Philadelphia Union and helped hold LAFC to one goal for 80-plus minutes before a mistake at the back and a wonder goal from Carlos Vela made the score look worse than it was.
But with Steffen gone, it’s Jon Kempin who has been in goal the last three matches. From what I’ve seen in training, the two are about equal and Porter has gone with the guy with more confidence, as Kempin played well against Minnesota United in May and decent in the two U.S. Open Cup matches over the break.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection on Wednesday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PM: Yes, lots. As I mentioned, the Crew are missing Steffen, Trapp and Zardes with the U.S. Jonathan Mensah also is away with the Ghanaian National Team, taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations. While Francis and Afful returned from injury last week, Afful picked up a red card and will miss this match. Accam will also be out with a hamstring injury suffered against SKC.
Jon Kempin; Hector Jimenez, Alex Crognale, Gaston Sauro, Waylon Francis; David Guzman, Artur; Luis Argudo, Pedro Santos, Robinho; Patrick Mullins.
Score prediction: 2-1 Crew.
Thanks again to Pat for a great look at Columbus.