The games have been coming thick and fast for Orlando City SC and this weekend is no different. Tomorrow, the Lions will face off against yet another foe that they’ve seen recently as the Columbus Crew come to town.
Ahead of tomorrow’s match I spoke with Pat Murphy, a managing editor of Massive Report and he gave me the lowdown on how the Crew have fared since the two teams last met. I also answered some of his questions, which you can find over at their place.
What have the last couple games been like for Columbus since these two teams last met?
Pat Murphy: More of the same, to be honest. The Crew played two tough games, one on the road and one at home, both of which were winnable, or at least a point was there to be earned.
Against Real Salt Lake, the Black & Gold rotated due to match congestion but had chances in the first half, including what looked like a penalty kick that went to Video Assistant Review but still was not called. Then in the second half, a long ball was not dealt with by young center backs Alex Crognale and Aboubacar Keita, and Sam Johnson was able to score the winner.
Over the weekend, Columbus again had a good first half and was actually able to score the first goal — a penalty kick from Pedro Santos — but couldn’t carry that over into the second half. The team looked much more lethargic over the second 45 minutes and gave up a penalty kick of their own. It still looked like the Crew would get a point out the game — which would feel like a win for the team at this point — and then, in a crazy-long amount of stoppage time, they gave up a goal on a long throw-in where the ball needs to simply be headed out and/or the most dangerous forward on the field for the Seattle Sounders needs to be marked.
It continues to not be good enough for Columbus. Fortunately, from a Crew perspective, the national team players are back and reinforcements from the transfer market are on their way. It’s a question of will it be too little too late for this season, though.
Joe Bendik has started the last two games in goal instead of Jon Kempin, after only making two league appearances since the start of the season. Is that due to form, injury, Caleb Porter trying to determine who his best netminder is, or some other reason?
PM: Basically, Porter is trying to find a consistent goalkeeper until help arrives in the form of Curacao shot-stopper Eloy Room. Both Kempin and Bendik have shown flashes of what they can do, but it hasn’t been consistent. Neither is great with their feet — which is key for the Crew — and, while they make saves, neither has demonstrated the propensity for the big save.
The Crew’s defense has been good enough to win games this year, but mistakes at the back have cost this team. Neither of these guys has been big enough to stop those and that’s why it’s been a bit of a back and forth.
What is your key match-up going into this game? Who has to win their battle for Columbus to split this season’s meetings with Orlando?
PM: It’s the outside backs against Nani for me. He was held in relative check in the first meeting against Orlando and still managed two assists. Somehow the Black & Gold must find a way to neutralize him. That could be with great defensive play or it could come from Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis playing good enough defensively on him but also making key contributions on the other end of the field.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection on Saturday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PM: Federico Higuain and Milton Valenzuela are both out for the year with ACL injuries. David Accam is battling back from a hamstring issue from a few weeks ago. He was back in training yesterday but I would put him as doubtful for this game. Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are back from their trip with the U.S. National Team, so they should play. Jonathan Mensah was with Ghana and was expected back last night. Caleb Porter said they would evaluate him after he was dealing with a small knee issue. Josh Williams had to leave the last match with a minor injury but I believe trained yesterday.
Projected starting lineup:
Joe Bendik; Harrison Afful, Josh Williams, Gaston Sauro, Waylon Francis; David Guzman,Wil Trapp; Hector Jimenez, Pedro Santos, Luis Argudo; Gyasi Zardes.
It’s hard for me to pick the Crew on the road right now. I’ll say 2-1 Orlando.
Thanks again to Pat for the briefing on Columbus.