Preview: Columbus Crew (h).
When? November 4 at 4.30 p.m. PT, 7.30 p.m. ET and 12:30 a.m. (5/11) GMT.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN+, TSN3, Fox Sports Ohio and Fox 35 Plus for residents of the United States. The game is being broadcast on FreeSports in the U.K. (Freeview channel 64), live and on demand via the app. The game is also available via radio locally, check local listings.
We all know that Columbus possess a lot of attacking talent, and can be dangerous to anyone on their day. The Crew are tied for 3rd place in goals scored in the east with 33. They've only failed to score twice all season long. Their main man is Gyasi Zardes with 11, no other Crew player is yet to come close to double figures with Pedro Santos currently lying in 2nd with 6. They are a team that likes to get the ball forward quickly. Don't let that fool you, though. This is a direct team, but there's a clear strategy. The likes of Darlington Nagbe and Artur are two quality MLS midfielders, who can pick passing lanes like locks. Ensuring they are unable to distribute the ball effectively, is going to be the key to victory for Orlando City in this game.
The Crew use a methodical approach to the game. I say methodical, not to make their approach seem stale and unexciting, I say it because it's effective. In Darlington Nagbe and Artur, they have two deep-lying midfielders who work excellently in possession. Particularly when under pressure. Both have an array of passing that rivals the best in this league. Artur has an average pass success rate of 87.7% with an average of 54.9 pass attempts per game. He also attempts 5.1 long passes a game. Similarly, Nagbe has a pass success rate of 90%, with 42.4 passes per game and 3.1 long balls. What does this tell us? They are the engine room, they will look to get the ball wide at every opportunity (see the passing network graphic, from the Union game in figure 1). That gives the likes of Pedro Santos ample opportunity to fire balls into Gyasi Zardes. They might be a methodical, possession-based team, but they're certainly not boring. This will be a huge test for Orlando.
Figure 1 shows Columbus's passing network graphic from their win over Philadelphia Union.
Whilst the Crew are doubtless a methodical and possession-based team, they carry a lot of attacking threat as I alluded earlier. If you look at figure 2, you'll see that they average 11.91 shots per game, with 4.73 of those giving the goalkeeper something to worry about. They are also a team with a lot of will and stamina, who score a fairly high percentage of their goals in the last 10 minutes of games. If you study the graphic in figure 3, you'll see that they have scored 18% of their goals in the dying embers of games. We all know defending narrow leads late on has been something of an issue for Oscar Pareja's team. They will need to be wary of this threat.
Figure 2 shows Columbus's averaged offensive statistics.
Figure 3 shows an average of when Columbus goals are scored, this season.
Huzzah! Almost a clean bill of health for Orlando City heading into this one. Joao Moutinho is back in full training, but this game will come a little too soon for the Portuguese. Dom Dwyer remains out, but aside from that Oscar Pareja has a healthy squad to choose from. Mauricio Pereyra came through the win over Montréal unscathed. Uri Rosell is also set to be involved in this one.
As for the Crew, Vito Wormgoor is the only absentee as Columbus look ahead to securing 3rd place.
Possible starting XI
It's well known that Columbus have stagnated somewhat over recent weeks. Their patchy form has left, head coach, Caleb Porter with serious questions to ponder. He won't want to deviate too much from the team which bested the Union, so I would only anticipate 1 change. I think Youness Mokhtar will deputise for Derrick Etienne. Mokhtar has pace, and with a record of 3 goals and 1 assist in 10 starts and 18 substitute appearances, he has he has clocked up slightly better numbers than Etienne (1 goal, 2 assists from 7 stars and 12 substitute appearances). Aside from that, I think you see the same team. I would be very surprised if either side rested any of their stars for this game, as both need that W in order to wrap-up a top 4 finish.
Nagbe might not be the headline grabber in Columbus, but he's arguably their most important player. Of the 12 games he's started this season, the Crew have only lost 1. He spent a considerable spell of the season out of the team due to an unfortunate knee injury. The former Atlanta United man has established himself as one of the best ball playing defensive midfielders in the league. Nagbe's 90.9 % pass completion rate from 55 attempts in their recent win over the Union, only serves to reinforce that status. He was also 6 for 6 on accurate long balls in that game, a statistic that highlights his ability to switch the play when under pressure. He also further highlighted his defensive merit, with 1 interception, 1 clearance and 2 blocked shots. His battle against Mauricio Pereyra will be one of considerable intrigue.
Orlando City will be looking to make it 3 wins on the spin for the second time this season, as both teams look to secure that coveted home play-off berth. Orlando halted something of a concerning slide with consecutive wins over the Plastics and Montréal Impact. They head into the final two legs of the regular season with a very impressive 10-8-3 record. They've also, crucially, yet to lose at home. The Lions have an impressive 5-2-0 record at Exploria Stadium. The top two is out of Orlando's reach. Even two wins would not take them there, as both Toronto and Philly have 3 more wins than ourselves (first MLS tie-breaker). Third place is the best we can hope for. A win over Columbus will take us a long way towards achieving that.
Columbus are not in the scintillating form we saw them in earlier in the season. They are still a formidable opponent, however. Their impressive home victory over the Union, last time out further undermined their status as genuine MLS Cup contenders. The Crew have an 11-5-5 record on the season, but have only won 4 of their last 10, losing 4. Losses to the likes of FC Cincinnati and Montréal, sought to seriously undermine their intentions. They will have taken a lot of confidence from that win over Philly, no matter how fortuitous it was.
Both Orlando and Columbus sit 4th and 3rd respectively, with near identical records. This promises to be a fascinating encounter.
*All statistics courtesy of mlssoccer.com and footystats.org
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com