The Columbus Crew and Orlando City SC will collide at the Exploria Stadium this Sunday. During this tense encounter, both teams will fight for a playoff position in the final game of the MLS regular season.
Missed opportunity on Matchday 33
The Eastern and Western Conferences are each handed seven playoff positions for the MLS cup, and midweek Matchday 33 meetings for both Columbus and Orlando saw them squander an opportunity to gain more powerful positions in their playoff run.
Columbus faltered a 2-1 lead to Charlotte on Tuesday evening. Andre Shinyashiki stole three points from the Crew with seconds remaining in the game (90+4’). After leading 2-0 at halftime, the Black and Gold were cruising towards victory, but the fourth minute of stoppage time equalizer handed the MLS some added playoff drama for the season’s final game.
A 36th-minute free kick from 56 yards handed Lucas Zelarayan his tenth and most impressive goal of the season to give the Crew a 1-0 lead. Luis Diaz extended the scoreline (2-0) in the 54th minute, but Charlotte instantly replied with a 58th-minute equalizer.
As a side note, Zelarayan has been impeccable from outside the box during regular season outings. The former Tigres UANL star joined the MLS in 2020 and has since netted 17 goals from outside the box – doubling the efforts of any other player in the division during this span.
The 2-2 tie for Columbus (10-7-16, 46 points) placed them into a fifth-place divisional standings tie with Cincinnati and Inter Miami. Still, when Miami defeated Orlando later that night, their table positioning dropped to seventh (tied sixth with Cincy).
From a positive stance, Columbus collected a point, and their current table position puts them as the seventh and final seed viable to enter the 2022 MLS Playoffs. Unfortunately for their Sunday night opponents, Orlando City, a losing night against Inter Miami dropped them outside of the playoff picture into eighth place.
Orlando City SC (13-14-6, 45 points) was dismantled in a derby meeting with Inter Miami on Wednesday night. A 4-1 scoreline left the Florida-based team with a sense of disappointment, as highlighted by head coach Oscar Pareja.
“Well, we understand the importance of this game, a rivalry, derby, and we know what this kind of game means to the fans. We’re pretty disappointed not to perform the way we should. In this part, I take the responsibility,” Pareja.
Before Wednesday’s defeat to Miami, Orlando was riding a five-game undefeated streak when playing their neighbors from the south. But this loss was more than Floridian bragging rights; the Lions fell to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings causing a must-win situation heading into Sunday’s Decision Day fixture versus Columbus Crew.
Decision Day with Columbus Crew and Orlando City
The entire season thus far means nothing; Columbus and Orlando’s playoff hopes have come down to the 90-performance they deliver on Sunday. BetMGM Ohio sportsbook odds for the MLS represent this position to the fullest, positioning both teams with close to plus-money value.
However, the Crew are the betting underdogs at +160, and with the home-field advantage, Orlando is priced at -105.
Although these odds are tempting, perhaps the +250-price tag on a tie is where the most significant betting potential stems from, especially when one team can make the playoffs by parking the bus to cause a potential stalemate.
Columbus enters Sunday’s Decision Day meeting with Orlando owning a significant advantage; they only require one point to book their ticket into the MLS Playoffs. Crew head coach Caleb Porter remains optimistic about his squad’s chance of success, despite failing to maintain composure for a whole 90 minutes during countless 2021 MLS meetings.
“Obviously, result-wise, it’s not what we wanted,” Ported commented. “It’s not a win, it’s a draw, but it still gives us a chance, depending on other results, to win our last game and get in the playoffs. Even if we won this game, we were probably in the same situation where we had to win the last game or possibly get a draw.”
Shinyashiki’s 94th-minute equalizer saw the Crew break an undesirable record this season, as they’ve squandered 11 points from conceding goals in the 90th minute or later. This hasn’t knocked the confidence of Columbus midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who believes in his team’s offensive production.
“We got two goals on the road, so go down there and do the same,” Nagbe said. “Just [need to] close the game out.”
Confidence has seemingly taken a hit at the opposite end, as Orlando has lost four of their previous five games.
“The confidence that the boys had [in] themselves and the memories that they had of many, many things they have achieved together, that would be enough just to change that energy,” said Pareja, referring to his team’s US Open Cup success at Exploria Stadium in September. “But to change this moment, [it’s] by working, preparing, and that’s exactly what we will do.”
Although the current form of both Orlando and Columbus isn’t comparable, Sunday’s Decision Day meeting will inspire both teams, and past results shouldn’t be considered. They’re entering the most crucial game of their season tenure thus far. Orlando midfielder Junior Urso signaled his inspiration when discussing his team’s potential of claiming a playoff position on home turf, pleading with fans to arrive in force at the weekend and help “push” them to success.
“We have to put the team in the playoffs,” Urso commented. “This is my third year over here, and we did [it] two times. Let’s try to do [it] again. We know we never hunt alone [because] we have our fans.”