Decision Day is almost upon us, everyone. Orlando City either needs to win outright or draw and hope D.C. United beats FC Cincinnati to squeak into the postseason. Standing in the Lions’ way on the final day are the Columbus Crew, the team directly above OCSC in the standings. The Crew currently hold the final playoff place.
Columbus has done exactly what it has needed to do, and is in position to qualify for the playoffs on Decision Day. What has fueled the recent three-game unbeaten streak?
Thomas Costello: From one perspective, the recent streak is a good thing to secure points late in the season. Another perspective and it shows a side that’s struggling to close matches out.
The Crew haven’t lost in three, but they also haven’t won in two of the three when they had winning positions, especially Charlotte on Wednesday when Columbus was up 2-0. Thinking about Columbus’ recent streak, and really since May, the Crew haven’t won a ton, but they’ve drawn a lot — 15 total this season. That should scare Orlando fans knowing that Columbus makes it in with a single point.
Is Columbus being in position to make the postseason as simply as Cucho Hernandez providing a big injection of offense since his arrival, or is there more to it than that?
TC: Hernández’s arrival has given a spark to the Columbus offense. He has nine goals and three assists — that’s more than all four other strikers combined who the Crew have used this season. Beyond the scoring is a player who seems angry when the team isn’t winning. He plays with passion, which recently has gone too far with his one-match suspension for offensive language. The good side of that passion is someone who is all over the field.
Hernández tracks back on defense and isn’t afraid to get into challenges. That creates a tough defensive night for opponents. With Sunday possibly being the last match of the year for Columbus, he’ll be a rocket on the field.
When he joined the league he said he wanted to be the face of it. To do that, he has to deliver in big-match situations.
Given the team’s recent form, if Columbus does make the postseason, how far do you think the Crew can go?
TC: That’s a tough question. On one hand, Columbus hasn’t lost a lot, but they’ve also allowed a lot of goals late. It’s a guessing game on if that’ll stop anytime soon. If it does stop, they’re a top team in the league and can challenge anyone. If it doesn’t, every match will he even more dramatic than usual.
Are there any players unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
TC: The only question on the field is center back and captain Jonathan Mensah. Head Coach Caleb Porter thought he might play Charlotte on Wednesday, but instead opted for Milos Degenek and Josh Williams.
I think he plays and Columbus goes with a 4-2-3-1, Porter’s favorite. There are two questions on the roster: midfield next to Darlington Nagbe and on the wings.
Artur was Nagbe’s midfield partner since Nagbe’s arrival but injury and inconsistency have given young Aidan Morris substantial minutes, and it’s hard to choose which way Porter goes Sunday. Offensively, Derrick Etienne Jr and Luis Díaz have flanked Hernández up front the most since the Colombian’s arrival, but Kevin Molino is healthy, and Porter’s been using the former Minnesota star of late. I’m guessing Molino starts with Etienne providing a spark on the bench.
Realistically, Columbus are experts in getting draws, but for some reason I’m feeling like Orlando away from home to decide it all might be too much. Also, it’s tough facing a side that’s just been punched in the mouth like Orlando has at the hands of Inter Miami.
2-1 Orlando City and questions to answer for the Crew this off-season.
Thank you to Thomas for the informative update on Columbus ahead of tomorrow’s match. Vamos Orlando!