Due to the international break and the weather postponement of the week 2 match, Orlando City (2 - 0 - 0, 6 points) gets its first road test of the season today against Columbus Crew (2 - 1 - 1, 7 points). Both teams are riding two-match win streaks. Since the Crew have played four matches so far, it's hard to make real comparisons, but Orlando City is averaging 1.5 goals per match scored while giving up only 0.5 goals per match. Meanwhile, Columbus is averaging 1.8 goals per match scored while giving up 1.5 goals per match.
Columbus is tied with two other clubs (Atlanta United FC and New York Red Bulls) for first in the East, while Orlando City sits merely one point behind, tied with Toronto FC for fourth. The series between the two clubs includes five matches, with Columbus winning twice, Orlando City winning once, and two draws. At Mapfre Stadium, the teams have tangled twice, with Columbus winning one time and the teams drawing once.
Players to Watch
The home side have a number of players who are always dangerous. Striker Ola Kamara has three goals in the first four matches of the season, and is always a threat to score. And Justin Meram has two assists and one goal from his midfield position, as he is often involved in buildup and attacks by Columbus. Those are familiar faces to Orlando City fans that have watched this rivalry develop. But the home team has three new faces that could prove equally challenging. Homegrown Defender Alex Crognale won man of the match honors in his MLS debut earlier this season, and rookie Niko Hansen scored a goal in the team's recent 3 - 2 victory over Portland. Finally, Columbus made a trade with Vancouver to acquire Kekuta Manneh earlier this week, and we all know how the trade with Vancouver for Giles Barnes has worked out to benefit Orlando City.
Finally, there is an exciting new addition for Columbus fans--the additions of capos to lead the supporters in chants. While "The Wall" for Orlando City has a long tradition back to USL days of having well-organized leadership, the concept is surprisingly brand new for Columbus, which is one of the original MLS sides. Many old school Crew fans were skeptical about the addition of capos to the Nordecke supporters section, but according to MLS.com many of those skeptics found the experience as exciting as we have known it to be here in Orlando.
For Orlando City, all eyes will be on Cyle Larin out of the gate. Larin has all three of Orlando City's goals in the early going, and he has been getting assists from the likes of Giles Barnes, Carlos Rivas, and MPG. The biggest improvement in the team over 2016 for Orlando City has so far been in the defense. NYCFC probed the defense throughout the opening week match at Orlando City Stadium, but rarely found opportunities to get a clean shot to test Joe Bendik.
With all the firepower that Columbus brings to bear on opponents, the match will be another big test for the new defense. And I think it's important that someone other than Cyle Larin find the back of the net for Orlando City, since it will eventually become too easy for teams to simply mark Larin with multiple players whenever the team pushes the attack forward. Fortunately, however, it has looked like Carlos Rivas, Giles Barnes, MPG, and others have been close to scoring so far. Perhaps today will be the day that more scorers emerge for Orlando City.
The weather in Columbus will be brisk, with the forecast calling for 50 degree temperatures under a cloudy sky. Those temperatures and conditions should be comfortable for both teams, and they are forecast to persist throughout the entire match. I think the Columbus attack may prove to be the most potent Orlando City has faced so far, but I'm going with my purple-tinted glasses today and I'll predict a 3 - 2 victory for the road team, with at least one of the Orlando City goals scored by someone other than Larin.
What about you? Do you think Orlando City can continue its perfect season and bring back three points? Or do you believe they will only manage a draw or suffer a defeat today? And will someone other than Cyle Larin manage to score for Orlando City today? Let me know in the comments below!