Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC
2017 MLS Regular Season
MAPFRE Stadium - Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, April 1 - 4:00 p.m. ET
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Columbus Crew SC come into this Eastern Conference clash riding high – all the way at the top of the conference table, to be exact. Fresh off a reinvigorating 3-2 home win last week vs. 2015 MLS Cup rivals the Portland Timbers, they're ready to leave the dismal end to last year's campaign behind. They're also brandishing a particularly dangerous forward in Ola Kamara and a high-profile new acquisition in Kekuta Manneh, who was acquired in a trade with Vancouver on Thursday.
But despite the fact that they'll have a home-field advantage on their side – now, maybe, with capos! – no match against the current Orlando City squad can prove a cake walk. The only real factor that keeps them below Columbus on the table is that they didn't play last week. Otherwise, they're undefeated in their two matches to date, and the one-two punch of Carlos Rivas and Cyle Larin should make most defenders afraid – very afraid.
Columbus Crew SC
During that MLS Cup re-match, "the idea was to send a message," said head coach Gregg Berhalter. Well, that's been duly noted – fan favorites Justin Meram and Kamara both tallied. But one special surprise? The stellar MLS debut from rookie Niko Hansen, who notched the team's third goal after coming on as a sub in the 60th minute. Another came on Thursday, when Berhalter added the dangerous Manneh to his attacking corps in exchange for midfielder Tony Tchani and a haul of allocation money.
But young guns aren't just troubling opponents up top. Don't forget that just the previous week, another rookie, Homegrown center back Alex Crognale, earned man-of-the-match honors during his own league debut. Add this to all of the usual Crew suspects, and this squad could contend again for Cup this year.
- Suspended: None
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT - D Gaston Sauro (knee injury, out for season); QUESTIONABLE - M Dilly Duka (calf contusion); D Jonathan Mensah (hamstring strain), Federico Higuain (ankle sprain)
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Zack Steffen – Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Nicolai Naess, Waylon Francis – Wil Trapp, Artur – Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram – Ola Kamara
Notes: Crew SC have won four of their last six home games (1L-1D). They had won two of their prior 11 home games (8D-1L) before this stretch.
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Orlando City SC
Orlando remain perfect so far in 2017. However, after weather postponed an originally scheduled match vs. the New England Revolution, that means they've only played two. No matter, though. Bolstered by an epic start to the season in a jealousy-inducing new home – plus some impressive squad depth – they're showing strong possibilities for playoffs contention this year.
The Rivas-Larin pairing continues to flourish; the latter, in fact, boasts three goals already, as many or more so far this season than nine MLS clubs as a whole. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Joe Bendik continues to seemingly effortlessly make new cases for Save of the Week, as Giles Barnes is fitting in nicely in the midfield after landing with the Lions.
- Suspended: None
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT - M Tony Rocha (hamstring injury); M Kaká (hamstring injury); D Seb Hines (knee injury); D Rafael Ramos (hamstring injury)
Projected Starting XI (4-4-2): Joe Bendik – Will Johnson, Jose Aja, Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia – Matias Perez Garcia, Servando Carrasco, Antonio Nocerino, Giles Barnes – Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin
Notes: Only once in the team's MLS history has Orlando won consecutive road games. They defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-0 in their most recent road match on Oct. 16, 2016.
This is a series with a young history, with a slight edge to Crew SC since Orlando entered the league in 2015.
- Overall: Columbus 2 wins (13 goals) … Orlando 1 win (10 goals) … Ties 2
- At Columbus: Columbus 1 win (5 goals) … Orlando 0 wins (2 goals) … Ties 1
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Assistant Referees: Jeffrey Greeson, Brian Poeschel
Fourth Official: Chris Penso