OCSC vs. Columbus: Previews and Predictions

It’s been a roller-coaster week since the USA hosted Panama at Orlando City Stadium last Friday night. With a 4 – 0 win in front of a packed house, every fan of the US Men’s team thought we were in great shape to secure a top three finish in the hex and qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Since then, it’s been all downhill as a soccer fan. 

Lost Points and Lost Matches

First was a gut punch from the MLS. Between the MLS decision to ignore the Laws of the game and not force Dallas FC to forfeit the most recent game and a win by the New York Red Bulls last weekend, Orlando City’s MLS side was officially eliminated from the playoffs.

Then last Saturday the Orlando Pride came up short in their bid to advance to the NWSL Cup Final as they fell 4 – 1 at Portland. The Thorns have a great team and just played better soccer on the day. To be fair, the Pride struggled in the last few matches of the season when they were on the cusp of qualifying for the playoffs. They could have locked up a spot with four games left, but it took three draws and losses by some other teams competing for the final two spots for the Pride to punch their playoff ticket. As much talent as they have, I saw a team that showed nerves for the first time all season when they were trying to lock down the playoffs and again in the semifinal match. They have veteran leaders, but they are a young team, and I think that comfort with expecting to be in the playoffs and expecting to play for championships will come with time.

And then last Tuesday night the US Men’s National Team laid a sloppy, misshapen, cracked-shell egg against Trinidad & Tobago. T&T fielded a young team with nothing to play for but personal pride and the sheer love of the game, and that love showed through brilliantly. Meanwhile, Team USA looked slow, plodding, disorganized, and seemed like they had spent more time drinking Bacardi & Coke than training. By the end of the match, not only had they lost 2 – 1, but wins by Honduras and Panama had vaulted both those teams above the USA in the Hex and knocked us out of the World Cup before the month-long final tournament for the first time since the 1986 edition.

All that makes me a pretty angry fan. So in some ways I’m pretty damn glad I only have to spend one more match day at Orlando City Stadium watching the MLS side trip over their shoelaces this weekend. And even that’s going to be more bittersweet than the last home match of any season, since Kaka announced earlier this week he would not be back.

Kaka’s Retirement

Kaka’s decision did not surprise me—his name drew attention to Orlando City from the very beginning of the MLS era, and he immediately became one of the most beloved players in the entire league, alongside the veterans who gave their entire careers and became part of the lore of the MLS. So part of his league-leading salary over the last three years can be seen as an investment in promoting the club. 

But his time with the MLS side was marred by injury. That is just the effects of Father Time creeping up as it does on the best athletes in every sport. And age also showed its effects this year especially as teams seemed to hone in on stopping Kaka by collapsing down on him and cutting off his passing lanes every time he received the ball. As the Captain at the 10 spot, all of his teammates always wanted to give him the ball to let him dictate the offense, but as that became too predictable and Kaka’s speed at 35 could not match his speed at 25, I believe it really hurt Orlando’s chances of creating more chances and scoring more goals.

So if Kaka were to come back, I knew he could not come back as an every match starter and it would be unwise to bring him back at his same salary level, and I am always doubtful that any professional athlete is willing to take a pay cut or accept a reduced role. So it seemed likely he would retire.

Players to Watch

Columbus Crew
PlayerGoalsAssists
Ola Kamara163
Justin Meram137
Federico Higuain911
Will Trapp05
======================================
Orlando City
PlayerGoalsAssists
Cyle Larin123
Kaka65
Carlos Rivas55
Dom Dwyer34
Scott Sutter14

In the last few matches, Cyle Larin has started from the bench with Kaka and Dwyer at the top of the 4-4-2 (or 4-1-2-1) formation. I think this is likely to be the case again, with Kaka coming off in the second half to give the crowd a chance to recognize him and making way for either Larin or Rivas.

It will also be interesting to see whether Will Johnson is in the 18 for the match today. MLS announced late in the week that they have completed their investigation into his domestic abuse arrest. That means he has been cleared to rejoin the team for practice and is eligible to be selected for matches.

Given the general reaction of the Orlando City fan base, I do not think it would be in the club's best interest to bring Johnson back next season, and my hunch on that will grow stronger if the coaches decide to leave him out of the 18 for Sunday's match. He has value as a player, and when the off-season transfer window opens, I think there may be some teams that would be interested in trading for him.

Prediction

Orlando City is out of the playoffs and have nothing left to play for. Columbus is playing to try to improve their playoff place. They currently sit fifth but can finish as high as third depending on their results and the results of other Eastern Conference teams in the last two matches. So on paper it would seem like Columbus would have the motivation.

However, this will be Kaka’s last home match with Orlando City. The hometown fans will be urging Kaka on to provide one final magical performance, and the rest of the team will (hopefully) want to reward the fans for putting up with their on-field nonsense for the entire season. So one more time I am going to invoke my purple-tinted glasses, and against the better part of wisdom I will predict that Orlando City will pull off the victory. My score prediction is 2 – 1 in favor of the home team.

Not a Loss.. but Not Good Enough

As the Brits would say, the maths have not been crunched, but August 19, 2017 will pretty much go down as the day that Orlando City's MLS season died. All year we've heard the excuses from players and coaches... "If we could get some calls to go our way," and, "If we can get some good looks at the goal," and, "If we can get some playmakers," we were told, "then we can still make some good things happen."

Well, tonight we had the perfect storm. We made the midseason moves to bring in Dom Dwyer and other talented players; we got our share of calls from the man in the middle of the pitch; we even got a man advantage for the last 13 minutes of regulation (plus an extra Seinfeld episode of stoppage time); and at one point we had three strikers: Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas, and Dom Dwyer on the pitch... and we STILL couldn't put more than one goal in the net.

Not. Good. Enough.

We led in shots 20 to 4 (shots on target 8 to 2). We led in possession 55.5% to 44.5%. We led in passes and percentage:

  • 411 / 85% to 333 / 77% overall
  • 265 / 75% to 182 / 70% attacking half
  • 140 / 75% to 78 / 55% final third
  • 23 / 26% to 8 / 25% crosses

... and we couldn't put a winner into the net.

Not. Good. Enough.

The team continued their anemic offensive output that we have seen all season. With Giles Barnes 2nd half equalizer, that makes 26 goals in 25 matches for the season--for the entire roster. Half the strikers who have ever worn the crest for either Barcelona or Real Madrid would be tarred and feathered by the fans in the village square if they couldn't manage more than that many goals on an individual basis over 25 matches, let alone the entire club's roster.

Not. Good. Enough.

And so, my friends, I say that this may be the last day that you will see the purple tophat at Orlando City Stadium the rest of the season. I'm retiring my City kit for the season. I'm retiring my City scarf for the season. I'm retiring my City tophat for the season. Oh--I'll still go to the MLS matches, but I'll wear my Orlando Pride kit and my Orlando Pride scarf and my Orlando Pride fedora.

Why? Because that team is serious about winning. Because that team understands how to execute the fundamentals. Because that team has a sense of urgency and imposes their will to win on the opposition. I expect that when I pay my money to go see a team perform, that they will not merely get the ball in the same zip code as the goal. I expect that they will put the ball into the goal. Multiple times. Every match. No excuses. Anything less is simply...

Not. Good. Enough.

OCSC vs. Columbus: Previews and Predictions

Struggling Orlando City host the Columbus Crew on Saturday night in a match that could give the hometown fans a glimmer of hope or could push the red line even further out of reach for the lads from Orlando City. The summer has been an active one for the Orlando City front office, between losing MPG to gaining Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun, and Dillon Powers. Dwyer and Yotun have both made appearances and have shown that they can be dangerous players. In his first two matches, Dwyer has had a number of close brushes with crossing passes and has opened space for other attackers on the pitch. And in his debut for Orlando City, Yotun showed his touch by sending a 40-yard pass forward right to the feet of a charging Carlos Rivas. As they get settled in and build chemistry with their teammates, it seems promising that the results will be better. The question Orlando City fans are impatiently watiting to see answered is whether that will happen soon enough to salvage a playoff run for this season.

Players to Watch

Due to a bizarre late-match horsing around between Kaka and old teammate Aurelien Collin last week, the Captain will be suspended after receiving a red card for what was deemed "violent conduct." The incident was a moment of levity in a match that was getting increasingly testy, and the officials misread Kaka's actions and issued a straight red, even after Collin pleaded on behalf of his former teammate to reassure the officials they were just playing around. So Kaka will be out for the match.

Dom Dwyer is coming off minor nose surgery and has been fitted with a facemask, but it is uncertain if and how much he will play in this match. Yoshi Yotun made his debut in purple last week and as advertised he seems to be a great creator, being able to pass the ball forward to help attackers if a shot opportunity is available to them. And of course Jonathan Spector is out with a knee injury, meaning that we are likely to see the same defensive line that gave up three goals to the Red Bulls last week, unless Jose Aja returns to the lineup after spending some time on the bench to think about all the goals he has allowed in over the last fifteen or so matches.

For Columbus, there are several dangerous players to watch for. Ola Kamara leads the team with 12 goals, and Justin Meram (who had a brace against Orlando City back in April) is not far behind at 10. Federico Higuain is snapping at his heels with 9 goals on the season.

I chatted with a Columbus fan named John last week down at the Broken Cauldron before the Orlando Pride match. He said to keep an eye on a young Brazilian player named Artur. He's featured in 17 matches for Columbus and has two assists on the season, but John seems to think that with the form and poise he has showed he could contend for a DP spot with the Crew next season. Speaking of assists, some familiar names are at the top of the table for Columbus in that category. Meram leads the team with 7 assists, followed by Higuain at 5, and then Will Trapp has added 4 assists on the season. 

Prediction

I wish I had the confidence to predict an Orlando City win. Unfortunately, winning only two matches in the last 17 outings is not doing anything to instill me with confidence in my team. I see glimpses of promise in the impact that Dom Dwyer and Yotun have already had on the team, but I see this team trying way too hard to make the complicated plays instead of going for the straightforward options. A great example was last week when Carlos Rivas had a beautiful opportunity to go to the near side of the goal with the keeper's momentum moving the opposite way, but instead he tried to make a dainty little chip over the diving keeper that got swatted out harmlessly.

Come on guys--let's just get back to basics. Pass to the closest teammate. Shoot for the open side of the goal. Mark your man on defense. Press the attack forward for 90 minutes relentlessly. And instead of wasting energy getting mad and fighting with the other team, how about focusing that energy into actually playing the game and trying to win. Could you maybe see if you can do that for us? We'd really appreciate it.

As for tonight's match if we see the same kind of Keystone Kops routine we have from Orlando City, I'd look for another 2 - 0 defeat. But if the lads can show that they've actually learned from some of their mistakes and taken some things to heart, we could see the team win. Columbus has struggled on the road, losing 6 of their last 8 road matches and being outscored 19 - 7 in those contests. A flurry of goals tonight by the home side would do a lot to buoy the confidence of Orlando City fans and set the stage for a possible run at getting above the red line. But a loss will make the playoffs an even higher mountain to climb with even fewer matches left to reach the goal.

What are your thoughts on tonight's match? Do you think Orlando City can reverse the recent trend and actually win a match, or do you think Columbus comes in with too much firepower for the struggling home side to get a result? Let me know in the comments below!

Watch for Prematch Facebook Live Posts

Last week I started something that seems to have been good luck for our Orlando Pride--for the Tuesday 8/8 match I posted a facebook live preview, and the ladies won 3 - 0. Then last Saturday I posted another facebook live preview for Pride, and they won 5 - 0. 

So later today watch for a facebook live post from Church Street in Orlando. The Pride play at Boston Breakers this afternoon at 4:00 pm, and the game will be streamed on the Go90 app. I'll be watching with my friends over at the Lion's Pride Pub, and around halftime of the Pride match I'll do another facebook live preview for Orlando City as they get ready to host the Columbus Crew at Orlando City Stadium later tonight.

Come enjoy the match on TV and have a drink as we watch the ladies try to make it three wins in a row as they continue to push for the playoffs. Find me and we'll talk about some soccer and what the men on the MLS side need to do in order to start looking like they are serious about trying to win another match before the rest of the season!

 

OCSC vs. CLB: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

A 4 - 1 loss at home when your team is trying to make the playoffs is never fun, and when the match is the second in a row that your team has surrendered four goals in a loss, it's especially disheartening. There is certainly not much good you can say about the team's form at this point. In fact the only thing I can say is that when I've thought I have figured out which players are key to this team being successful, they prove just how wrong I am by making dumb mistakes or failing to take advantage of opportunities. After these two matches, about the only thing good I can find is that there are fewer times I will have to endure this kind of crap before the end of the season rolls around. Perhaps during the off-season, Jason Kreis can eject some of the dead wood from the team and bring in players that will give 90 minutes of effort every match from March through October every season--no exceptions, no excuses.

The Good

  • Joe Bendik - The keeper didn't have his best game, but he was still the best player in an Orlando City kit that was on the pitch last night. He recorded only one save, but that had more to do with the limited number of shots Columbus put on target and the fact that the defense often left him in a situation where he was alone against several attacking players that could attack the goal.
  • Only Five Matches Left - There are times I wish the season would never end for my club, but right now I kind of wish they could put the 2016 season out of its misery today. Seriously, this team sometimes looks like a sports version of the Keystone Cops with their incompetence and inability to finish a match.

The Bad

  • Shooting Worse than Death Star Stormtroopers - You remember those scenes in the original 1977 Star Wars film where the heroes are running through a hail of blaster fire from an army of stormtroopers, and you knew that they would all be OK because the bad guys were blasting everything from walls and parked spaceships and control panels, but they were never hitting anything they were trying to hit? Well that was about the way Orlando City's shots were going last night. The Lions registered 20 shots on the night, more than twice the number that Columbus managed (only eight). But less than half the shots were even on frame, and most of those were either right at goalkeeper Steve Clark or struck slowly enough that the Columbus keeper could easily corral and stop them.
  • Shea on the Bench - It seemed an odd choice to start the match with Brek Shea on the bench. Last week in his stint from the bench Shea scored a goal, and when he came into last night's match late off the bench he seemed to add a much-needed spark to the home side's attack. To my mind, these performances should be earning Shea a chance to be back in the starting lineup, because we could use that kind of pressure on the opponents for a full 90 minutes. Maybe Coach Kreis will put him into the match next week. It is understandable that while both Rafael Ramos and Pedro Ribeiro were back on the bench and available as subs that they would not be put into a game that was already out of hand as substitutes. But it will be good to see them able to get back to playing and hopefully contributing some minutes before the end of the season, presuming that the last two matches don't mark the beginning of a monumental collapse for Orlando City.

The Ugly

  • Lack of Defensive Discipline - The two goals Columbus scored in the first half came on complete defensive meltdowns by Orlando City that allowed long passes up the middle of the pitch. This let multiple players get behind the Orlando City defenders and have one-on-one chances against keeper Joe Bendik. While Bendik is good, the defense needs to learn not to leave him so exposed and unaided so many times. He deserves a better, more compact, and more disciplined defense to play in front of him.
  • Own Goal Madness - Seb Hines had the unlucky misfortune to score an own goal last night in the 22nd minute to put Columbus up 2 - 0 early. Having a player like the "headmaster" who scores most goals with his noggin is both a blessing and a curse. It works well when your team is the one taking the corner kick so that he can guide the ball into the net. But the muscle memory and practice he gets scoring goals when the team is attacking makes it much harder for him to direct balls AWAY from the net when it's the other team that is taking the corner kicks.

What about you? Do these kind of games make you glad there are not many more matches left in the season, or do you think matches like the most recent pair just represent part of the growing pains of getting used to a new coach? Did you find any silver linings in the play last night despite the lopsided loss, or did it just confirm for you if there are certain players that Coach Jason Kreis should work to remove from the roster in the off-season? Let me know in the comments below!

OCSC vs. CLB: Previews and Predictions

Orlando City is desperate for points tonight after getting mauled by five-time MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy last Sunday on the road. The scoreboard said 4 - 2, but it felt more like a five-goal margin of victory from the way the Galaxy dominated the match. 

The match marked the return from retirement of Landon Donovan for the Galaxy, and it seemed to be the spark that LA needed to remind them they have multiple championships. There could also have been a revenge factor, as expansion side Orlando City earned their first home victory last season with a 4 - 0 shutout victory over the Galaxy last season.

With the loss last Sunday, Orlando City has allowed DC United to climb back into the 6th position on the East table, and Orlando City is now sitting tied with DCU on 34 points, but below the line in 7th place.

Players to Watch

For Orlando City, the usual cast of characters should be on display. Defender David Mateos is out on yellow card accumulation, which may mean a return to the starting lineup for one of the players that has been out for a while recovering from injury--Tommy Redding or Rafael Ramos--or it could mean someone else gets a chance to start. Of course behind the defense is Joe Bendik, who is second in MLS and leads the Eastern Conference with 101 saves on the season. Kaka should be in the lineup as well with his team-leading 8 assists, and is one something of a roll with four goals in three games. The team's two leading scorers, Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino, will also bring their potent scoring attacks to the pitch tonight.

For Columbus, it's easy to forget that the team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table this season went to the MLS Cup Final match last season. They have many of the same players in place, but for some reason the goals just haven't been happening for them this year. They did take a 2-goal lead in the first half of the only matchup so far in 2016 between Columbus and Orlando City before the lads came back to secure a point on the road. Ola Kamara leads Columbus with 11 goals on the season, while Ethan Finlay has added five for the Crew. And it's no surprise that Justin Meram leads the team with 8 assists and Finlay has added six for the visitors. Coach Jason Kreis and the players have been wary of Columbus all week and give them due respect as defending Eastern Conference champions. 

Scoring Notes

Orlando City made quite a name for themselves earlier this season in terms of deciding games very late--remember the two stoppage time goals against RSL in the season opener to secure the draw? In fact, Orlando City has gone on to score 14 goals on the season after the 75th minute of the match. This is a good matchup when facing Columbus, who have allowed 17 of the 45 goals they have conceded on the year after the 75th minute. So that means we could be in for an exciting flurry of goals from the lads toward the end of the match. Hopefully, that will be a flurry of goals that extends a lead and not one that has to claw us back into the match.

Prediction

Columbus and Orlando City have  met 4 times, with each side winning once and two draws, and both teams scoring an aggregate total of 9 goals across those matches. But last week's match against LA Galaxy notwithstanding, it feels like Orlando City is on a good run of form lately, playing with more intensity, energy, and focus than I have seen from them in a long time. I think they are strongly motivated to make the playoffs this season, and I believe that will help them take advantage of the struggling Columbus team to earn all three points. I think the final score will be 3 - 1, with Larin getting at least one goal and Kaka registering at least one assist.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the match? Do you think Orlando City will get back on their winning ways tonight, or do you think they will only manage a draw or worse? Who are you hoping to see in defense tonight in place of the suspended David Mateos? Let me know in the comments below!