Orlando City is back in action this Saturday as the club hosts the Columbus Crew. This is the first meeting this season between the two clubs, and with fewer home matches than away matches to end the season, maximizing points at home will be key to the Lions’ success. That being said, what do the Lions need to do to defeat the Crew, defend Exploria Stadium, and pick up a vital three points?
Win the Midfield Battle
How decimated is Orlando City’s defensive midfield? Honestly, it might not be as bad as we thought. Yes, Sebas Mendez has returned from injury just in time to go on international duty. However, Uri Rosell, Andres Perea, and Joey DeZart were all seen in training with the full team this week. Junior Urso is an iron man, and Raul Aguilera Jr. has been pressed into more playing time. Just a few days ago, I was much more worried.
The Lions’ attacking midfield may not be doing as well with Mauricio Pereyra’s availability up in the air. However, Perea is back training with the full team, and you may have forgotten that Alexander Alvarado is an option. Additionally, Jordan Bender was recalled from his loan to USL Championship side Charlotte Independence to provide more depth.
I mention all of this to illustrate that while the Lions might not have a first choice lineup against the Crew, there should be greater depth in the midfield. How well these backups and returning players are able to perform could make the difference between how many — or any — points the Lions are able to earn.
Big Time Plays from Big Time Players
Nani will almost certainly get the start, and Orlando City’s captain need to show why he wears the armband. Nani leads the club with nine goals, and has also contributed six assists. Yes, he frustrates me when he wants a foul given and complains rather than getting up and defending, but he has been as big a difference maker as anyone in the league for this club. Without Pereyra, Nani is the key to unlocking the Columbus defense, and is the person who provides space and service for Chris Mueller, Benji Michel, or Daryl Dike to score. Of course, if he wants to score a golazo of his own, I won’t complain.
Speaking of those younger guys, someone needs to flip the switch in Mueller’s head and get Cash back to his form from last season. When the Money Badger gets rolling, good things happen for Orlando City. Dike also needs to dust off the rust and get a goal. We talk about how strikers are judged on scoring goals, but it’s been too long since the big guy did so in purple. Orlando City needs these players to step up if the Lions want a win at home.
As our exalted leader Michael Citro mentioned on The Mane Land PawedCast this week, the Lions need to stay on their toes in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the match Saturday night. Recently, Columbus has both come back from a deficit, and blown a lead in that time frame. Orlando City has its own history with late-game heroics, and devastating points dropped as the clock ticks away. You never know for certain what you will get from the Crew, and Orlando City must be vigilant on defense and/or aggressive in offense depending on what the score is come the 75th minute.
Those are the things I’ll be looking for Saturday night at Exploria Stadium. If you are going, I urge you to be smart and wear a mask. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.