SANFORD, Fla. — Fresh off its exhilarating penalty kick finish in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, Orlando City will take the pitch again on Saturday night to host a rematch against Columbus Crew SC.
The team has had two days to turn its focus from Wednesday’s game — which has been heralded as one of the best moments in club history — back to regular season play.
“I’ve been playing a long time and I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” Orlando City midfielder Will Johnson said. “When something like that happens it gives you momentum to push forward, to see what it means to so many people. That’s always a good reminder for us to see and feel.”
Saturday’s game is the last in a stretch of packed scheduling for the Lions, who will have played eight games in 29 days at the conclusion of the Columbus match. During this whirlwind series, the team has learned to quickly transition their focus from match to match.
“You almost don’t have much time to think about anything, wins or losses or anything like that,” midfielder Dillon Powers said. “We’ve gotten into the pattern of immediately just getting ready for the next game.”
Orlando City continues to hover in the gut of the Eastern Conference standings, sitting one point below the postseason cutoff line heading into Saturday’s match. As the team digs into the second half of the season, its sights are set on maneuvering into a position to make the playoffs.
One key to securing that position will be to lock down the defense in the final minutes of each match. The Lions have ceded a goal in stoppage time in the last two games, both times allowing a one-goal lead to slip and settle for a draw or extra time. Johnson feels that the team needs to be smarter in these final minutes if it hopes to climb in the standings.
“I think we are at a point in the season where we’re starting to treat every game like it’s a Cup game,” Johnson said. “We’re at the point where we’ve dropped points that we shouldn’t have throughout the season, so we need to pick up points to make sure we achieve our goals. We’re treating it as another must-win night.”
Only two weeks have passed since Orlando and Columbus last met. The first round between the teams took place in Columbus and ended with Orlando City taking three points off the Crew during a 2-0 victory.
Although the first matchup ended favorably for Orlando City, the team is approaching the rematch with a clean slate. With both teams’ rosters bolstered by returns from players who were on international duty for the Gold Cup, the two teams on the field on Saturday are expected to be drastically different than the lineups in Columbus.
The Lions are also looking to improve their record at home, where they have struggled to secure wins throughout the season.
“It’s obviously another quick turnaround coming off of a historic moment,” O’Connor said. “I think the big thing for us is to be mindful of the threats they pose while creating problems for them when we have the ball to hopefully get another result in front of our supporters.”
Even after its breakneck series of back-to-back games, Orlando City’s roster is relatively healthy heading into Saturday’s match. Defender Robin Jansson is still monitoring a rib contusion after a hard collision in Wednesday’s game, but he is expected to be available to play against Columbus. Meanwhile, defender João Moutinho fully returned to practice earlier in the week and is expected to be available on Saturday as well.
Defender Shane O’Neill and midfielder Cristian Higuita are the only players ruled out of the lineup. Higuita continues to recover from a hamstring injury, while O’Neill remains under concussion protocol.
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew SC
Where: Exploria Stadium
Watch: WRBW-Channel 65, Youtube TV
The Buzz: Orlando City advanced through penalty kicks to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup after drawing 1-1 against New York City FC on Wednesday. … Forward Chris Mueller netted his fifth goal of the season to give the Lions the lead in the 61st minute. … Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis made two penalty kick saves to advance the team to the semifinals, the farthest it has ever been in the U.S. Open Cup. … Columbus Crew SC suffered a 2-1 loss at home to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. … Orlando City is led by star designated player Nani, who paces the team in goals (8) and assists (7). … Gyasi Zardes leads Columbus with five goals.