Preview: Columbus Crew (h).
When? Sunday11 October 4:30 p.m. PT, 7.30 p.m. ET 12:30 a.m. BST (12/10).
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN+, DAZN, SportsTime Ohio and FOx 35 Plus. The game is not currently selected for UK broadcast. The game is available via radio locally, check local listings.
This is arguably Orlando's biggest game of the season so far. It's the Avengers: Infinity War of the season. A win could put us in an even greater position. A loss, would be hugely detrimental. However, we'd still have a whole other movie to set things straight. We just won't be able to use any space magic to reverse the result. As far as I know, anyways.
Orlando will be full of confidence. Many of the players have commented, on social media, about how frustrated the team were with that midweek draw in Atlanta. A team that was considerably stretched, in terms of depth, went hell for leather in the NFL arena. Home of the 2018 MLS cup winners. And they were upset with a point. These sentiments perfectly encapsulate the mentality within this squad. They'll be baying for blood, when the injured Columbus arrives in town. The Crew have been fantastic so far this season, but their momentum has been halted somewhat in recent weeks.
Columbus are a very dangerous team, that goes without saying. You only need to look at the current standings, to see how dangerous they can be. This is a team to loves to play, direct, fast-paced soccer. They are great at getting the ball into wide areas for the likes of Youness Mokhtar and Luis Diaz to feed the predatory Gyasi Zardes in the box. Zardes is the proverbial 'fox in the box'. The big striker seems to have really found his form in Ohio. His strike rate presently stands at well over a goal every other game. They are among the leading goal scorers in the east, with 26. Therein lies something of a problem, however. Of those 26, 22 have been scored, collectively, by Mokhtar, Pedro Santos, Lucas Zalarayen and Zardes. Their first choice front 4. As such, it stands to reason that if Orlando are able to cut off their supply line, through the press, they can effectively shut the Crew down. But that's the trick, isn't it?
This is a team that likes to focus their attacks down both sides. During their most recent defeat (Impact), they tended to focus their attacks down both flanks with 38% of their play coming on the left, and 37% on the right. There is also a heavy emphasis on crossing the ball, with 31 crosses attempted in this game. It's a game plan that makes sense, especially when you have a striker as good in the air as Zardes. Especially against a team like Orlando, who have a weakness in that area. The key for Orlando winning this game will be for them to get on top of their ball playing midfielders, such as Artur and Santos. Orlando's high press might be a suitable counter, as Artur et al won't get much time on the ball to find their wide players.
Orlando are still a little stretched in terms of roster depth, they could be about to receive a boost however. Oscar Pareja revealed, this week, that Matheus Aiás could (finally) be medically cleared. This news will undoubtedly be a huge boost to the Colombian.
Meanwhile, the Lions are still without long term absentee Dom Dwyer as well as Joao Moutinho and Uri Rosell. Tesho Akindele and Mauricio Pereyra are also set to miss out. Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez continue to be absent, on international duty. Ruan is still questionable.
Columbus have a few fitness issues of their own. The visitors are without Vito Wormgoor (ankle), Darlington Nagbe, Waylon Francis and Lucas Zelarayen (not medically cleared). New signing Krisztian Nemeth out of FC DAC 1904 Dunajska Streda, will sit this one out. The striker is still awaiting his Visa and international clearance.
Possible starting XI
Even the most ardent members of the Crew would admit they are lacking a little bit of depth in forward areas. The fine form of Mokhtar, Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayán and Gyasi Zardes has kept them going. The quartet has 22 goals on the season, for the Crew. Zelarayán is missing from this game, expect Díaz to continue deputising. The Costa Rican native has yet to score this season, but has laid on 2 assists. Elsewhere, I can see them managing minutes in midfield, with Sebastian Berhalter replacing Aidan Morris.
I don't think they change too much else, Caleb Porter will be desperate for them to get back to winning ways. They'll need a strong XI to take on an in form Orlando City.
The USMNT international has been a prolific goal scorer for the Crew, ever since he swapped the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles for... Well. Columbus. He's plundered 42 goals in 74 games so far for the Crew. You won't need me to tell you that's better than a goal every other game. Plus, I already did. So, yeah. Anyway, Zardes has been in stellar form this season as well, notching 10 goals and 4 assists in the regular season, so far. Orlando will need to keep close tabs on the mercurial finisher. He's quick, strong and works the channels well. He's a formidable opponent in MLS.
The Lions are flying heading into this huge encounter. Unbeaten in their last 10 games, winning 6. They've won all but 1 of their games at Exploria Stadium since the restart. The midweek draw with the plastics lifted the Lions to 8-6-2 on the season. They currently sit 4th in the east, 5th overall. A win in this one, would represent a huge statement of intent.
Columbus have been flying all season, they currently hold a 9-4-3 record, and sit just above Orlando in the east. They have come unstuck a little lately, however. They've only taken 1 point from their last 9 available. A 3-1 defeat in the road, against Toronto was followed up by a disappointing draw in Dallas. The Crew then suffered a shock home defeat to Thierry Henry's Montréal Impact. Expect to see a wounded animal here.
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com