Several times this year I've talked about being a new MLS fan and being a relative newcomer to the sport of soccer as well. While I've watched the World Cup every time it comes around for over 25 years now, I've not really followed a team for a full season until Orlando City arrived, and I purchased my season tickets for the first time for the 2014 campaign. So that may explain why the concept of this US Open Cup tournament happening throughout the course of the season is a bit strange to me.
As we saw from the game against Charleston a couple of weeks ago, this format presents an unusual challenge to a coach and a team. There is definitely prestige at stake, as well as automatic entry into bigger tournaments for winning the US Open Cup, but it's another match for your players, and as the regular season wears on it will cause an increasing challenge to decide how many minutes (if any) the coach wants to play regular starters.
Coach Heath and the Orlando City front office have been consistent in preaching the message that they have set the goal of having our lads in the playoffs this year. So far they are doing a fine job of positioning the team for that possibility, and it was apparent when we played Charleston Battery a couple of weeks ago in US Open Cup play that Coach Heath wanted to give most of his starters a break.
This coming Tuesday, we will face a familiar foe once again: the Columbus Crew SC. The first question in my mind is whether Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter will follow a similar strategy and if we will see mainly non-traditional starters for the visiting side. My guess would be yes, since they are also currently above the line for the playoffs, and sit one place behind Orlando City as of Sunday afternoon.
Of course the second and related question to that is whether the depth of Columbus full first team roster is equivalent to, superior to, or inferior to our own. In terms of talent I honestly don't know enough about the relative skill level of the players to give a fair assessment. However, based on a brief look at the top 10 players on the Columbus Crew roster page on their club's web site, I am going to be controversial and say they have the edge in team experience. Of the ten players, eight are in at least their second season with Columbus. Some have played three, four, or more seasons with the same club. When you look at Orlando City's roster, only two of the first ten players on the roster (Luke Boden, Harrison Heath) have been with the club since before the 2015 season.
Our squad has been competitive all year, and we've struggled with injury and international call-ups, but our last US Open Cup match featured a very shaky draw through 120 minutes and finally a PK win against a USL Pro club team. Granted, some MLS teams actually lost to USL Pro teams last round, but the lack of experience with each other from our players on the pitch showed in the inability to put Charleston away in the first 90 or 120 minutes of the match.
So does this mean we are doomed on Tuesday? No--I don't think so. I believe we can win, but I think it will likely be a tougher test for our lads than the previous US Open Cup match. Perhaps one of the biggest factors in the match will be the support of the home crowd. However, the timing of the match is not the greatest, since it will go head-to-head with the Women's World Cup semi-final match between the US and Germany. I'm not sure how this will impact attendance. I know I will be at the Citrus Bowl because the blog is the Lion's Teeth.
But in the grand scheme of world soccer, I certainly think the WWC match is more important. While I will DVR it and try to avoid news of the score, it's unlikely to think that we'll be able to escape the Citrus Bowl and get back home without seeing or hearing something about the match on social media, the radio, or overhearing other fans mentioning it. How many fans that don't have blogs and don't know much about the US Open Cup will choose to attend on Tuesday? That's a big question. I've heard estimates for a crowd that range from a low of 9,000 to a high of around 20,000, and I honestly don't know which one to expect.
What about you? Where will you be on Tuesday night? Will you be watching the WWC match or attending the Orlando City match at the Citrus Bowl? In either case, I hope both Orlando City and the USWNT win their matches. Go USA! Vamos Orlando!