It is all but a must-win game for Orlando City SC on Saturday when it looks to extend the struggles of the Columbus Crew.
The Lions (6-4-9) are one point behind Toronto FC for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, vying for that berth with the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire. After a home-and-home series with conference-leading Philadelphia yielded one of a possible six points – Orlando City drew 2-2 on the road against the Union on Sunday – dropping points in this match would be damaging.
Ahead of this contest, Orlando City made the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the first time in club history after advancing past New York City FC on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes on Wednesday. Keeper Adam Grinwis made two saves in the shootout, including the decisive one in the sixth round as he dove to his right to stop Maxime Chanot’s effort.
The Lions will host MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Aug. 6 with a spot in the final at stake.
“I think when you look at (the game), I think we’ve created a little bit of history,” coach James O’Connor told the club’s official website. “I think we won the biggest game in the club’s history, I think, when you look at the fight, the mentality. Granted the last minute we would expect not to concede a goal like that, but I thought the composure when it did go to penalties was excellent. I thought the mentality was very strong.”
The Lions will have some unexpected scouting help for this match following their acquisition of midfielder Robinho from Columbus on Thursday for $50,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. The 24-year-old made 13 league starts and 19 appearances for the Crew, registering two assists, and the hope is he can take some of the playmaking burden off Nani, who has factored on 15 of Orlando City’s 27 goals with eight goals and seven assists.
“We are extremely excited to welcome Robinho to Orlando City. He is a player that is extremely energetic on the pitch and has the ability to create opportunities for players around him,” team EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said. “As we make our push for the playoffs this summer we feel as though Robinho is a great addition to our roster.”
Robinho’s move was one of two the Crew (5-2-13) have made this week as they appear to be starting a clearing-out process to rebuild for next season. On Wednesday, they acquired forward Jordan Hamilton and $50,000 in TAM from Toronto FC for striker Patrick Mullins.
The 23-year-old Hamilton totaled 12 goals in 57 appearances in all competitions for the Reds, including five this season in eight starts and 15 overall games.
“We’re excited to welcome Jordan to Columbus Crew SC,” said Crew SC President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “In Jordan we have a young forward who has not only won trophies at the club level, but who also has experience competing at the international level with Canada and will provide depth in our attack.”
That depth is sorely needed considering Columbus has lost four straight and taken just four points from its last 14 league matches (1-1-12) following a 2-1 loss to Seattle on July 6). Pedro Santos ended Columbus’ 305-minute goalless drought by converting a penalty on 14 minutes, but the Crew conceded twice in the second half, with the match-winner coming deep in stoppage time through Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro.
The Crew will have top goal-scorer Gyasi Zardes, midfielder Wil Trapp, and No. 1 keeper Zack Steffen available after the trio helped the U.S. reach the Gold Cup final. Zardes was particularly missed, with Santos’ goal versus the Sounders the Crew’s only one since his departure.
(Gyasi Zardes photo courtesy Columbus Crew SC official Twitter account)