Orlando City took care of business against the Montreal Impact on Sunday with a 1-0 win on the road. The Lions will look to keep things going against the Columbus Crew back within the familiar confines of Exploria Stadium. This is a big one, as the men in purple take on the team directly above them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Columbus got a big win over the first-place Philadelphia Union on Sunday, bouncing back in a big way after losing to D.C. United the previous game. What was key for Columbus in getting that win?
Pat Murphy: Honestly, it was about getting key pieces back from injuries. The Crew hadn’t had Gyasi Zardes, Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe on the field since the last time the team played the Union 12 games ago due to various injuries. Given the strange schedule and the short weeks, it makes it tough to practice and put new guys into the lineup, so it’s hard to adjust tactically when guys are out and that caught up with the Black & Gold.
To be fair, however, it wasn’t the best performance from Columbus. The Union dominated long stretches of the game and were the better team offensively. The Crew just had a great performance from goalkeeper Eloy Room (eight saves) and were clinical in front of goal.
Having the team’s starting 11 back also allowed some depth, which resulted in the game-winning goal. Winger Luis Diaz came off the bench and added some energy. He assisted on Krisztian Nemeth’s goal that he scored with his first touch, so that was a positive. The Black & Gold haven’t had a ton of help off the bench this year.
Gyasi Zardes, Darlington Nagbe, and Lucas Zelarayan played together for the first time since Sept. 6 in that win. How did they look?
PM: As I mentioned above, that was big for the Crew. I would say this was not any of those players’ finest game but they all seemed to be shaking off rust. While Zardes only missed two games with an injury, Nagbe missed five and Zelarayan missed three. Getting these guys back and back in rhythm is important for this team heading into the MLS Cup playoffs and each game should be a step in that direction.
Talk to me a little about Jonathan Mensah. What role does he play for the Crew?
PM: Mensah is this team’s rock, really emerging as a star defender this year. He’s played every minute for a Crew team that, despite a few recent results, has been very good defensively. Jonathan is at the heart of that, leading the Black & Gold in nearly every defensive category.
He also was named the team’s captain this year and has really emerged as a leader. Generally a quieter guy, Jonathan’s personality (at least from a media perspective) has been demonstrated, even if it’s only on Zoom. He is much more talkative on the field this year as well than I remember him being in the past. His leadership is another reasons the defense has been as good as it has throughout the season.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PM: As of this writing, no injuries or suspensions to report for the first time in a while. The only player on the injury list is defender Vito Wormgoor. Josh Williams will be available for the first time in four games for this contest after a mysterious four-game suspension by MLS.
My projected lineup is:
Harrison Afful-Jonathan Mensah-Aboubacar Keita-Milton Velenzuela
Luis Diaz-Lucas Zelarayan-Pedro Santos
(No score prediction provided)
Big thanks to Pat for all of the great info on the Crew.