After a two-week drought without Orlando City games, the home stretch of the season is upon us. Decision Day is five weeks away, and the Lions will play seven matches in that span which will determine how OCSC’s season shapes up. That road starts tomorrow at Exploria Stadium with a match against the Columbus Crew.
A match against Columbus means that I spoke with Pat Murphy of Massive Report. As usual, Pat was very helpful in getting us caught up on what the Crew’s season has been like since these two teams last met back in May.
One of the biggest stories of the summer was Lucas Zelarayan’s surprise departure, with Diego Rossi brought in to replace him. How has Rossi performed so far?
Pat Murphy: He has been good but different. Despite his ability to score, Zelarayan was much more of a creator. He didn’t get a ton of assists for the Crew, at least not as many as no. 10s of the past, but he got the offense going and was a connector from the midfielder. He could do a little bit of everything. Rossi is creative but he’s a forward. He wants to be closer to the goal and put pressure on the back line
What Wilfried Nancy likes about him is that he’s willing to press and use his energy to cause problems for opposing back lines. Zelarayan would do that, but it didn’t come as natural as it does for Rossi, who is younger and has been asked to do this with other teams.
Rossi’s addition also allows the Crew to play a fluid front three. Before, the two in front of Zelarayan were able to move and rotate but the Argentine was generally in the No. 10 spot. Now with Cucho Hernadnez, Rossi, and Christian Ramirez on the field together, there are not set positions — more so roles that players are in which makes it harder to defender the Black & Gold.
Following Eloy Room’s departure, Patrick Schulte has further cemented himself as the starting goalkeeper. What style of keeper is he, and how has he looked?
PM: He’s pretty solid all around. He’s getting better as a shot stopper, or at least more confident doing it at the MLS level. He is decent with his feet and understands movement with the ball as a former basketball player that nearly played in college. He has not been scared to try some things from time to time with the ball, which has led to a couple of mistakes, but he’s done a good job of learning from those. The biggest thing lately has been Schulte’s leadership. He is much more vocal now that he knows he’s the guy in goal and is comfortable with his teammates. This makes quite the difference in terms of organizing the back line and helping Columbus play better defense.
As we get closer and closer to the playoffs, what are your expectations for this team? What would you consider a successful season?
PM: That’s a good question. This team changed way more in the summer window than I expected, with players both coming in and leaving. I honestly think it will be an interesting case study in how much you can overhaul your roster in the summer and have success.
I think this team is capable of making a deep run in the MLS Cup playoffs. The offense is elite and that always makes for a difficult out. I do still have concerns about this defense and how that side will handle postseason play. This was a focus on Nancy with his team over the past weekend and a half as the Crew didn’t play over the international window. We’ll see how much it helps.
I also think things will change in the playoffs because of the new format. I think it will be more difficult for the underdog to spring the upset, given it will be a best-of-three series instead of just one game.
With all that said, my expectation is this team gets in and wins a round. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Black & Gold goes far, but I could also see this team, due to all the changes, be better equipped to be really good next year with a full preseason with all of the new players and some motivation if they don’t get as far as they hoped this postseason.
Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc.? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?
PM: We expect Columbus to be pretty healthy coming out of the weekend off. I would project the lineup to look like this: Patrick Schulte; Steven Moreira, Rudy Camacho, Malte Amundsen, Julian Gressel, Yaw Yeboah; Darlington Nagbe, Aidan Morris; Cucho Hernandez, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi.
Score prediction not provided.
Thank you to Pat for his help in getting us up to speed on the Crew. Vamos, Orlando!