After a long layoff, its finally time! Orlando City will face the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Exploria stadium, as the Lions will try to remain unbeaten against the Crew during the 2023 season. That won’t be an easy task though, as Columbus put its firepower on display during an entertaining three-match series with Atlanta during the first round.
A matchup with the Crew means I spoke to Collin Johnson, one of the writers over at the always excellent Massive Report. He was very helpful in giving us an idea of what we should expect to see from Columbus when these two teams take the field.
Columbus has continued its regular season trend of scoring loads of goals, and has eight in the first three games of the postseason. What did the Crew do against Atlanta United that enabled them to find the back of the net so often?
Collin Johnson: The Crew were a bit fortunate, at least in the second game, to score as many goals as they did. Two of the goals in that second game were from low percentage chances, but they do illustrate what Columbus has been able to do since Diego Rossi joined the team. With Rossi and Cucho Hernandez leading the front line, teams are forced to leave some space for players in dangerous positions, like Atlanta did with Darlington Nagbe. When these players are able to get just an extra second on the ball it creates a world of opportunity. The Black & Gold are still playing the same, aggressive style that featured against Orlando in September, inviting pressure and looking to attack on manufactured counters, and they’re still giving up the same types of chances when teams attack from set pieces or look to quickly attack the center backs on a counter.
Who is a player that you believe needs to have a big performance for Columbus to advance to the next round?
CJ: If Diego Rossi plays his best match in a Crew uniform, Columbus will leave Orlando with a, rare win. Rossi has struggled to find his footing so far but has show flashes of the player he was a few years ago for LAFC. Rossi is still turning the ball over too frequently but he is finding himself in more dangerous positions and facilitating for his teammates at a rate that the Black & Gold need from a Designated Player No. 10.
The last time these two teams played was an absolutely wild 4-3 win for Orlando. Is there a possibility that Wilfried Nancy will take a slightly more defensive approach in this game, or do you expect him to stick with what’s gotten Columbus this far?
CJ: Even if Nancy does go with a more conservative approach, the team will still attack aggressively. Nancy’s three center back formation succeeds by allowing one of the outside center backs to move forward into the attack and outnumber the opposing defense. That leaves the Crew extremely vulnerable to attacks while the team is in transition. Realistically, Columbus will give up at least one goal to Orlando. The question is whether they’ll be able to outscore the hosts.
Will any players be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?
CJ: The Black & Gold should have a totally full-strength side on Saturday. The big question is whether Julian Gressel is reintroduced into the starting lineup after he was benched for the final match of the Atlanta series. My guess is that Gressel is back and we see a lineup featuring Rossi, Cucho, and Alexandru Matan up top; Aidan Morris and Nagbe in the midfield; Yaw Yeboah and Julian Gressel as the wing-backs; Malte Amundsen, Rudy Camacho, and Steven Moreira manning the center back spots, and; Patrick Schulte in goal.
Orlando City has always played the Crew well, especially in Orlando, but I think the third time is the charm and the Crew hold on to win a nail-biter, 3-2.
Thank you to Collin for the excellent information on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!